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Fix Poll: The Biggest Political Scandal Ever?

Ever since Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested early yesterday morning, one question has been eating away at the Fix: Is this the biggest and/or best political scandal in recent history?

The wire-tapped conversations, Blagojevich's delusions of grandeur (president in 2016!) and the overwhelming -- and creative -- use of profanity all recommend this scandal as one for the ages.

But, there is stiff competition -- disgraced former New York Gov. Elliot Spitzer, former Florida Congressman Mark Foley and retiring Idaho Sen. Larry Craig among others.

So, we thought we should put it to a vote. Make your voice heard in the poll below. We'll announce the winner on Friday!

A quick caveat/update: Yes, we know neither Watergate nor the Monica Lewinsky scandal is on this list. And, clearly they are HUGE scandals that, each in their own way, had a huge influence not just on the government but the American way of life. This poll is aimed at the scandals of the last few's for fun!

By Chris Cillizza  |  December 10, 2008; 4:00 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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Another birth cirt loony!

I mistyped some of the entries in Dante's Inferno, and yes GJonahJameson, there is oodles of room for disagreement in where people get placed. But, here my revised stab, corrected and extended with some of the new names. Most notably, I moved Gov. Blagojevich outward to Bolgia 7 since his actions are classical barratry. Instead of being encased an individual flame, he's immersed in a lake of boiling pitch. Much nicer.

NB I have omitted Circle 7 inner ring - I voted "no" on CA Prop 8. If you wish, though, you could move Larry Craig, Gerry Studds, and Barney Frank there. The imagery of this circle is quite moving: a wide area of arid sand, with flakes of fire falling like snow.

Circle 2 (lustful): Larry Craig, Eliot Spitzer
Circle 8:
Bolgia 1 (seducers): Bill Clinton
Bolgia 5 (barrators): Rod Blagojevich, Duke Cunningham
Bolgia 6 (hypcrites): Mark Foley
Bolgia 9: (sowers of discord) George W. Bush
Bolgia 10: (falsifiers) Richard Nixon (instigation of slander)
Circle 9:
Round 2: (traitors to political entities) James Buchanan

Posted by: Kili | December 11, 2008 8:48 PM | Report abuse

While I would have to agree that from the list it is technically the best scandal, my heart still prefers the Foley scandal. Only because of the quote about it from Patrick McDonald a former Congressional page:

"I wanted to believe that Foley was the guy we always knew he was: He just loved pages."

Posted by: caribis | December 11, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

So far, laughingcat is the most accurate; I agree that Jack Abramoff should also be included, but am amazed at no mention of Valerie Plame and the outing of a secret agent by Bush and Cheney, with Scooter getting a free pass from Bush. My vote is for George Bush himself- the most corrupt, illegal, disgusting, lying, conniving, incompetent ScaifeBorg to ever surf the White House.

Posted by: ihateliars | December 11, 2008 3:53 PM | Report abuse

2000 election. No matter what your political leanings are, there is nothing more scandalous than the president of most powerful country in the world being selected in that manner.

Posted by: eagle221 | December 11, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

The biggest scandal is yet to be exposed. The sellout by the U. S. Supreme Court in its failure to hear the case against the next President of the U. S. and his failure to produce a certified birth certificate. The one on the internet does not have an official seal on the phony document. The other scandal is the FBI's failure to release any information on the candidates association with terrorist, crooks, and anti_Americans. Obama's book the Audacity of Hope is nothing more than his Mein Kempf; which is devoted to the question of race as a substructure on which to erect an anti-Semetic policy to get elected.

Posted by: jrbreslin1 | December 11, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

I am sorry but none of these compare the the political scandal of the Bush administration tailoring intelligence to take us into an unneccesary and devastating war.
Oh, and the 2000 election being stolen.

Posted by: sheridan1 | December 11, 2008 1:18 PM | Report abuse


Blagojevich isn't even the biggest scandal in recent IL history. George Ryan's corruption ring and subsequent conviction took down something like 76 other people, killing the R brand in IL for what would have been a generation had not Blago tried to one-up him.

Posted by: mnteng | December 11, 2008 12:49 PM | Report abuse

The sex scandals, GOP or Dem, are just stupid peccadilloes that make the individuals involved look hopelessly lame, but are no real threat to democracy. They may be the most fun, but they are less than irrelevant to the well-being of the country.

The money scandals are more significant, because they DO undermine the democratic process, and sometimes have the potential to do real harm to our country.

But the worst scandals are the ones over power, and attempts to subvert the entire mechanism of democracy to fulfill the dark motives of the perpetrators. These scandals are by far the biggest threats to the health and well-being of our society, and everything we are supposed to stand for. And usually, they are justified in terms of "protecting" us, when actually they're all about controlling us.

By those standards, every scandal you listed in this silly poll is small potatoes compared to the Really Big Scandals of our time -- the WWII internments, McCarthyism, Watergate, and the post-9/11 assaults on our civil liberties. Nothing else in the last 100 years comes close.

Posted by: WaitingForGodot | December 11, 2008 11:54 AM | Report abuse

I rate Blagojevich first. The other scandals were about sex or self enrichment but Blagojevich was actually peddling the levers of government. It makes me feel like I live in a banana republic! "Duke" Cunningham is second for the same reason. This really is a shameful & shocking list. And you left out John Edwards, the dirtbag. Maybe he wasn't in govt. when his scandal happened but he wanted to be.

Posted by: cosmiccanine | December 11, 2008 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Kili, I don't agree with every single one of your placements, but I dig the "Dante's Inferno" comparison. More politicians need to have their wrongdoings contrasted on that scale.

Posted by: GJonahJameson | December 11, 2008 11:05 AM | Report abuse

Recent Political Scandals - My top ten in order of importance:

1) Bush takes us into Iraq on multiple frauds resulting in countless deaths and massive debt that will trouble us for decades to come.

2) Extraordinary rendition and/or torture of anyone anywhere any time surveillance says so.

3) The Constitution is shredded while Congress sits on its hands.

4) Political policy allows the military to dump massive amounts of seriously toxic waste off of US coastlines.

5) Diebold/ESS/Sequoia machines malfunction throwing multiple elections. (An argument could be made that the ways Bush got "elected" in 2000 and 2004 through manipulating the electoral system are the biggest scandal of all!)

6) Halliburton is given billions of dollars in no bid contracts while Veep Dick is given hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments.

7) Abramoff/DeLay/Ney conspiring to fix multiple elections in illegal manipulations.

8) Gannongate in ALL its very ugly aspects.

9) MSM not thoroughly investigating or reporting on any of the above due to corporate-political policy.

10) The giveaway to the banks without a comprehensive plan about how it will help renew our economy.

I'm sure there are others, but for now....

Posted by: laughingcat | December 11, 2008 10:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't remember the Duke Cunningham one and am too lazy to look it up :) but I'm saying Blagojevich only because the other scandals were primarily personal issues that just bled into politics because we assume elected officials should be held to a higher standard. Foley misused his office, that's probably #2, but Blagojevich's acts totally infiltrate the political process and any integrity of office that _should_ exist.

Posted by: SaraSmile1 | December 11, 2008 10:15 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, but Nixon still takes the cake- using the powers of the presidency to rig a presidential election and then use those same powers to try to cover it up, nothing compares.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | December 11, 2008 10:12 AM | Report abuse

DDAWD and others repelled by the Foley (R-Fla.) scandal are probably too young to remember that in the 1980s, Rep. Gerry Studds (D-Mass.) was actually found to have seduced an underage House page. (Foley only sent suggestive e-mails.) Studds' offense was excused by the Washington establishment and by the voters of Massachusetts. The former Congressment dropped dead during the Foley hysteria, which would have provided a good opportunity for 'compare and contrast' and reflection on how what had changed in the intervening years, but alas, the media wimped out. Gee, I wonder why? Maybe this is a bigger scandal than the Foley kerfuffle - the way the Beltway plays favorites in what constitutes a 'scandal'.

Posted by: MarkR1 | December 11, 2008 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Blogo would be considered the top political scandal ONLY IF ACTUAL MONEY CHANGED HANDS.

Therefore, I selected Duke Cunningham from the list provided.

Posted by: larrybuchas | December 11, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

Good grief, not even close.

Aside from Richard Nixon, the fearmongering Joseph McCarthy put on his colleagues, and a few other scandals going back to the beginning of time? I should think a war begun on false pretenses (even if it fulfilled long-term goals of an isolated Republican think tank) and exploiting 9/11's fears and emotions takes the cake for me.

These scandals you've listed are trivial and sad to say, the usual. A vigilant public and press, not to mention justice system, is part of our defense against the worst aspects of our natures. (For even as I mention Nixon, I can still offer support for much of what he did in office.)

Posted by: miriamc1 | December 11, 2008 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Let's not forget 'Barney - The Banking Queen' - it never really was investigated too well!

Posted by: newbeeboy | December 11, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Soliciting sex in a public bathroom is a scandal, but faking critical intelligence information to create a war that leads to death, destruction, and a 3 trillion dollar bill to taxpayers --- that's just heroic politics as usual.

Posted by: moon6pence | December 11, 2008 9:08 AM | Report abuse

Abramoff, by far. Makes your results inaccurate.

Posted by: optimyst | December 11, 2008 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Fix Poll: The Biggest Political Scandal Ever?

I refuse to vote on such TRIVIA matters. I will vote on a bailout plan for the middle class taxpayers, now that's what's up, real.

Posted by: Nisey01 | December 11, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

Fix Poll: The Biggest Political Scandal Ever?

In my honest opinion, none have preference over the other. The entire political infrastructure needs serious adjustments. I applaud President Elect Obama for his sincere efforts to be implemented in restoring our entire political infrastructure to a more respectful level. We definitely needs a good cleaning crew to clean up the past piles of dirt. God Bless America!

Posted by: Nisey01 | December 11, 2008 7:51 AM | Report abuse

I would say the Foley scandal because large numbers of important people were implicated in the coverup. The Stevens, Spitzer, Edwards, McGreevy, Craig and Cunningham scandals were confined to a single political figure.

The Blago scandal has the potential to implicate a number of significant individuals and Jesse Jackson, Jr. already appears caught up in it. So I would say that it is a bigger scandal than all but Foley's and depending on what happens could rival or surpass Foley.

Posted by: Lloth8 | December 11, 2008 3:14 AM | Report abuse

Jack Abramoff!!!

Posted by: jamesstack | December 11, 2008 1:29 AM | Report abuse

Trying to sell a Senate seat is just straight-up old school.

Posted by: samtm52 | December 11, 2008 12:23 AM | Report abuse

Larry Craig. Measured by the depth of material for comedian's. There's been little more inspiring phrases than 'wide stance'. You can't teach genius like that, you have to be born with it.

Posted by: DonJasper | December 10, 2008 11:01 PM | Report abuse

"Duke" Cunningham in a landslide. The former Vietnam fighter pilot ace took over two million in bribes and was convicted. How are the others even close?

Posted by: JoeinMN | December 10, 2008 10:47 PM | Report abuse





Posted by: 37thandORules | December 10, 2008 10:26 PM | Report abuse

Chris wanna tell me how you happened to overlook Jeff Gannon on your poll? A homosexual prostitute evokes a coy smile from the president of the United States before the entire White House press room and that doesn't score higher than a boring run of the mill Chicago pay to play? Are you divorced from reality? hehehe.

Posted by: georgejones5 | December 10, 2008 9:35 PM | Report abuse

What about Senator Bob Packwood? He even had the nerve to write about it in his own diary.

Posted by: Shaun-kar | December 10, 2008 9:17 PM | Report abuse

I'm a resident of CA-50, so I have a special spot in my heart for Duke's scandal. That he wants a pardon because of his Vietnam heroics shows he is still deep in denial land.

I see the birth cert boobies are still with us. Lord have mercy.

The Abu Graib revelations made me pine for the Bill/Monica days. At least then the nudity was enjoyed by the participants. And, I still am less upset about lying about sex rather than, oh, lying about weapons of mass destruction. But, I'm old fashioned that way.

Larry Craig is pitiful. It's not a scandal. In better days this would have been covered up. There's no reason to make a case out of it.

But, the denial of Blagojevich in the face of such well documented brandishing of raw power for personal purposes is truly breathtaking.

Let's use a concrete scale: where would Dante put these fallen leaders? Foley and Spitzer would go into the second circle, blown about in an endless storm. Clinton goesinto circle 8 bolgia 1 as seducers, marching in line while being flogged by demons. Duke goes into bolgia 5 of circle 8, in a lake of boiling pitch. Foley is one bolgia up because he is a hypocrite - he gets to wander in a lead cloak. Blagojevich's crime is worse than Cunningham, because he is giving false advice as well. This promotes him to bolgia 8, encased in his personal flame.

I would place our current president in bolgia 9 as a sower of discord, repeatedly hacked by a sword-wielding demon. But, if you believe that our vice president knew there were no weapons of mass destruction, then Cheney would go into bolgia 10 as a falsifier, afflicted with disease.

I think one could argue that President Buchanan ended up in Circle 10 Round 1 since he effectively let the union dissolve. I'd only put him up to his waist in the frozen lake. And, according to the Dante scale, I think he is the worst.

Posted by: Kili | December 10, 2008 9:01 PM | Report abuse

Did you ask Bob Woodward for help on this poll?

Posted by: billcrews | December 10, 2008 7:52 PM | Report abuse

The biggest scandel of the CENTURY is Kenyan born Barack refusing to prove he is born in America AND prove he is an American citizen.

Posted by: Archarito | December 10, 2008 7:27 PM | Report abuse

Senator Craig! It has to be Senator Craig! That is definitely the most fun scandal of modern times!

The mythical toilet paper!

Senator Craig, we will miss you!

Posted by: daveofthecoasts | December 10, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Chris, the grandiosity of your question doesn't match the poll answers. "Greatest modern scandal" and then you list relatively petty things that happened in the last several years. Give me a break!

Rod Blagovich only said out loud what actually happens among most politicians where quid pro quos just happen naturally without being spoken. In the scheme of things, what he did wrong was not so bad. When I saw his ad, I thought to myself, well, even if he's guilty of all this scheming and conspiring to enrich himself and his wife, the things he's done for Illinois are greater and overshadow these minor wrongdoings.

Here is my vote for the greatest contemporary scandal of our time: It's Bush's approval of torture and Congress's willingness to let him get away with it.

Posted by: crestfallenwassailing | December 10, 2008 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Jeeze lostein, give it a rest. The list is bipartisan if you hadn't noticed.

Clinton doesn't register because frankly it wasn't much of a scandal despite the coverage and the impeachment, both of which were huge over-reactions given the circumstances. If the supreme court had not issued their WORST decision of the past 2 decades (including Bush v Gore in 2000) when they concluded that sitting presidents would not be 'inconvenienced' by having to respond to civil suits, the entire 'monicagate' scandal would never have existed.

Sure, Clinton is a sleazy jerk for what he did, but that hardly makes him alone in that regard. If you remember, the loudest moralists of those chasing him (Gingrich and Hyde) were unapologetically guilty of the same infidelity. Frankly, I'd rather have Clinton screwing Monica than the tax payers.

Really, this is a silly list.

Craig? Who did he hurt besides himself?
Spitzer? Stupid and illegal, but ditto with Craig.
McGreevey? See the pattern here?

I'd probably elevate Foley up above those 3, but mainly because the scandal was that everyone knew he was a creepy sex predator and did nothing to protect his potential victims.

Given the rest of list Chris provides, it's between Stevens and Blago. On that scale Blago's is a WAY bigger scandal.

Still, the list is mysterious for what it misses in the name of staying in 'the last few years'. On that scale, Blago's nothing too special, even going back only to the 1970's.

Watergate? (Chris does mention it so he gets a pass I guess)
Keating 5?
Jack Abramoff?
Dan Rostenkowski?
Jim Traficant?
Valerie Wilson?
Fyfe Symington?
George Ryan?

True, I think Blago's, and maybe Steven's, repercussions will echo louder than many of these, but the others on the list aren't even close to the same league as this list.

Posted by: cometboy | December 10, 2008 5:46 PM | Report abuse

"The Foley, Craig and Spitzer scandals were simply sex scandals "

Foley is different. We're talking about young subordinates.

Posted by: DDAWD | December 10, 2008 5:39 PM | Report abuse

"Yes, we know neither Watergate nor the Monica Lewinsky scandal is on this list. And, clearly they are HUGE scandals that, each in their own way, had a huge influence not just on the government but the American way of life. This poll is aimed at the scandals of the last few's for fun!"

Yeah, unlike the deep, far reaching Larry Craig scandal.

Posted by: DDAWD | December 10, 2008 5:37 PM | Report abuse

This scandal is the biggest because it has tenticles into other areas. The sex zcandals are amusing, and everyone knows what a 'wide stance' means now, but this scandal takes the case. His Kremlinesque threats to the Chicago Tribune to get the writers fired, plus the fact that he was trying to sell a US Senate seat, and the seat happens to be the President-elects just adds a little spice. Think of the potential complications if the arrest happened AFTER he made his selection. In all likelihood, we would have a sitting senator who would be indicted on bribery, because he would have had to bribed this mobster/governor for the appointment in the first place. There might not be indictments coming for 'Candidate No. 5" (Jesse Jackson Jr) or the contact from the SEIU, but there definitely has been some significant PR damage to their reputations. Think of the potential damage that would have happened to an Obama presidency, if a member of his administration (it wouldn't matter if he knew about it or not) had negotiated a deal for Blago to get a cabinet post or an ambassadorship?

Posted by: TexasProud1 | December 10, 2008 5:19 PM | Report abuse

.... maybe too soon, but where is Charlie Rangel on your list - the tax cheat in charge of the House Ways and Means Committee and writing our tax laws. Then there is Chris Dodd and his sweetheart deal from Countrywide...

So the message I get is... if you're a Democrat you can do, say, sleep with, and take bribes from just about anyone, not to mention ignore the job you were elected to do ...paging Barney Frank. Wow, what change they bring to government!!!!!

Posted by: lostein | December 10, 2008 5:09 PM | Report abuse

Where's Clinton?
A President obviously committing perjury and spitting on the rule of law, covering it up, using his power and friends to hide it, still getting caught, and still getting away with it. Wow.

That's nowhere near Craig or Spitzer's stupid sex scandals.

Posted by: SouthernAWF | December 10, 2008 5:00 PM | Report abuse

"Sex trumps money every time. Of course sex for money is the daily double."

Interesting. So what do you call planting in the press corp a former gay (male) escort to both pitch softballs & promote WH press releases as news? See Jeff Gannon/Guckert...

Posted by: bsimon1 | December 10, 2008 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Sex trumps money every time. Of course sex for money is the daily double.

Posted by: tobetv | December 10, 2008 4:50 PM | Report abuse

I was going to go with Governor "I Am A Gay American," but I realized that's probably my personal favorite. Definitely the Blogo scandal, simply because the guy tried to sell A UNITED STATES SENATE SEAT. And not just any seat - the seat being vacated by the President-Elect!!!!

Posted by: RonfromNYC | December 10, 2008 4:40 PM | Report abuse

Interesting list. what was the criteria? Why no Bill Clinton? Screwing in the Oval Office instead of seeing to the security of the country isn't a scandal? Of course, for me, the biggest is why Ted Kennedy is still a senator. Am I the only one who remembers that he did cause the death of Mary Jo Kopechne? I hardly think Larry Craig is in their league.

Posted by: lostein | December 10, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

The Foley, Craig and Spitzer scandals were simply sex scandals -- embarrassing personal weaknesses which became public. The Craig scandal will go down as toe-tapping hilarity for the ages, although I still question, on civil liberties grounds, whether his arrest was legitimate.

But the Gov. B scandal is a pay-to-play assault to legitimate governance that reaches from the IL statehouse nearly to the U.S. Congress. In terms of potential political impact, this Illinois scandal is of much greater import, although without the (oooh, sex!) salacious details of the other scandals. My vote: Gov. B of IL.

Posted by: VirginiaMom | December 10, 2008 4:37 PM | Report abuse

It's the homosexual Republicans that so clearly undercut the hypocritical claim of 'moral' superiority by the Republicans. They were exposed as phony, self-serving fools.

Posted by: thebobbob | December 10, 2008 4:33 PM | Report abuse

I guess we have learned machine politics is alive and well in certain areas of the country. I realized the governor is an idiot, but has our expectations for our elected officials dropped to the point that this is an afterthought? The interesting impact here could be, since the SEIU was allegedly working as a middle man here, possibly facilitating a high paying position, do we trust SOME of these unions, who clearly don't police themselves, with unfettered access to our job market with card check?

Posted by: TexasProud1 | December 10, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Of the choices presented (and I couldn't think of any others recently - maybe good 'ole Jim Trafficant should've been included), I think Blago is clearly the biggest scandal. Cunningham is in jail for bribery and his case seems similar in type, if not scope. Larry Craig's, Mark Foley's, Eliot Spitzer's, and Jim McGreevy's were all silly sex scandals - they don't approach the level of what our boy Blago is being accused of. Ted Stevens was convicted only of falsifying disclosure forms, which given the specifics of the case *might* approach bribery, but they didn't go after him for that. Blagojevich was such blatant, unadulterated greed (really - holding up a children's hospital for campaign cash?? That would make Abramoff ashamed). I think trying to sell a Senate seat is straight out of the 19th century robber-baron age, and is by far the worst scandal I've heard of in recent memory.
To parkerfl1: The Bill-Monica thing doesn't come close - horribly bad judgement about a sleezy sex-capade and then lying to cover it up doesn't compare to trying to use one's power to sell a Senate seat, deny funding for a child's hospital, etc.

Posted by: erikpdumont | December 10, 2008 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Four on the list are about sex so who cares. Where's Abramoff? He gets my vote. What is striking about all of them is the high risk behavior they engage in for so little return. Rugs, art, a fish sculpture, a golf outing, sexcapades. It just amazes me that they put their whole character and careers on the line for chinzy "stuff." As far as the governor of Illinois goes, it's not clear if he ever closed a deal or if he was all talk and stupidity, a level of incompetence all by itself.

Posted by: interactingdc | December 10, 2008 4:28 PM | Report abuse

It's really hard to say. Rod has completely disgraced our institutions with sickening depths of illegal behavoir. But Teddy boy in alaska turned legal corruption into an artform.

Posted by: theamazingjex | December 10, 2008 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Um, Bill Jefferson? Kinda timely. Add in the semi-interesting con law issue about the raid on his office, and I think we have a winner.

Posted by: pwj10000 | December 10, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

the fact that craig is on here is both laughable and mildly offensive. he committed a mild crime with no governmental connection (i.e. giving someone a job, accepting items illegally, etc). the only reason that's even a "scandal" is because it involved same-sex sexual interactions, and it's kind of annoying that you'd place that up there with someone who blago.

what about vitter? his scandal was arguably bigger, but i guess since it was a guy going after women, it's not offensive.

Posted by: cprach | December 10, 2008 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Duke Cunningham and the Abramoff scandal was much bigger in scope then any of the others mentioned. It involved a whole bunch of members of congress.

But the most entertaining has got to be Larry Craig. I mean they had to close that bathroom in the minneapolis airport cause so many people were going in and taking pictures.

Posted by: AndyR3 | December 10, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

What about Pete Williams and ABSCAM or Spiro Agnew and income tax evasion?

Sadly, this seems too short a list.

Posted by: rogied25 | December 10, 2008 4:18 PM | Report abuse

I don't think I can choose... Too many deserving candidates for this title!

Posted by: dcgrasso1 | December 10, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The names involved and what sort of corruption took place and the brazenness of it all makes this the biggest scandal in recent memory. Only Bill/Monica is bigger than this thing.

Posted by: parkerfl1 | December 10, 2008 4:07 PM | Report abuse

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