NEW YORK—Hustler founder Larry Flynt appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show last night to talk about Louisiana Senator David Vitter (and other congressional sex fiends, and in a segment that seemed all too short managed to turn Maddow, a notorious prude, into star-struck mush.)
By interview’s end, she gushed, “OK. So, we just had Larry Flynt on the show to talk about the David Vitter problem. It is possible that my life is complete. So, if I‘m not back after the commercial break, I want you to know that I died happy, OK? OK.”
The “Vitter problem,” as Maddow currently sees it, is the fact that Vitter is still in office while Anthony Weiner is being hounded out (as yet, unsuccessfully) by members of both parties. She’s been saying all week that there is a double-standard in politics, and that the Dems get the short end of the stick (no pun intended).
Flynt, who appeared remotely, was in great form during the interview, the subject of which spoke directly to issues that interest him deeply. Funny, insightful and generous to a fault, one of the most fearless and controversial pornographers the country has ever produced even had Maddow referring to him as an “unexpected big softy on issues like this,” the implication being that a man who has twice publicly offered a million dollars to expose sexually hypocritical politicians probably has little sympathy for those eventually exposed. The interview revealed that assumption to not always be the case.
Indeed, Maddow mentioned that in 2009, as the Mark Sanford scandal was winding down, Flynt reached out to her in a letter. “You said you felt that Governor Sanford should get some credit for sincerity essentially, for really falling in love,” she said. “Do you have a soft spot for these guys, even as they would all try to deport you to Mars if they thought it would make a good campaign ad?”
Flynt conceded, “Of all the sex scandals we‘ve had in the last few years, Sanford, I‘ve got some sympathy for. What happened to him is the guy fell in love, you know? With these other dogs, you know, it was just sex.”
The other dogs, none of whom elicit any sympathy from Flynt, include David Vitter and Ron Livingston, the former of which admitted during a press conference in 2007, with his wife at his side, that he had a penchant for prostitutes but would continue to serve his constituents, and the latter of which resigned in 1999 following a threat by Flynt to release details about four extramarital affairs by the then Speaker-elect. The man who replaced him was none other than David Vitter.
What makes that time period, and Flynt’s role during it, all the more remarkable is the fact that both Livingston, who Flynt called a “pig” last night, and Vitter called for President Bill Clinton to also resign in the wake of his own sex scandal involving Monica Lewinsky.
“It was Flynt's million-dollar reward offer that prompted the allegations that prompted Livingston to acknowledge his past affairs late Thursday,” Howard Kurtz wrote at the time for the Washington Post. “In short, at a moment of grave constitutional crisis, one of America's leading pornographers has inserted himself into the House debate over whether to impeach President Clinton for lying under oath about sex.”
Fast forward: history, if it is not exactly repeating itself, sure looks similar to what’s going on today. Sex scandals of all sorts abound and once again a Democrat, who did not actually have sex with any of his online would-be paramours, is being pressured to step down. As far as Flynt—the author of One Nation Under Sex: How the Private Lives of Presidents, First Ladies and Their Lovers Change the Course of American History—is concerned, nothing has changed since the founding of the nation except for the twisted revisionism of the Republicans.
“The book that I wrote, scandals were just as bad 200 years ago as they are now, and they just as viciously campaigned against one another,” he told Maddow. “And the Republicans now are trying to set up a double standard with men. But I don‘t think—I don‘t think we should fall for it.”
As far as the Weiner scandal goes, Flynt was typically accepting (“Weiner had his excesses. Everybody has their excesses. A lot of people have trouble keeping them in check.”) but also admitted that he was an “enigma” with respect to the current scandal, a position that makes sense in light of the fact that he is ”the first guy to defend a philandering president. I think if he can fight two wars and balance the budget at the same time, you should be able to sleep with whoever you want to.”
In the end, Flynt’s opinions on all of this may appear contradictory, but that is only because of his deep understanding of the human sexual condition as well as the realities of public, political life in the United States. In television news’ usual black-and-white consideration of these matters, Flynt’s ease at being able to juggle seemingly incongruous truths at the same time without tripping over himself was as refreshing as it was mature, and it was easy to see not only why Maddow was so pleased with the interview but also why Flynt, who knows a thing or two about dealing with personal demons, has so little patience for the hypocrites he has spent so much time and money working to expose.
A video and transcript of the show are available on the Maddow blog.