The candidates subject themselves to all those boring chicken dinners, weekends on the road and having to flatter unpleasant people. Their campaign workers, contributors and media friends struggle to pull them over the finish line.
The politicians taste victory, or at least a commanding lead in the polls, and -- boom! They are outed in a sexual indiscretion, found making an easy-to-catch lie or flattened by a journalist's obvious question.
What was Indiana Rep. Mark Souder thinking when he had an affair and let his mistress interview him in a video discussion on abstinence? Had the Republican not put the public through years of moralistic preaching, his private meanderings might have been forgiven. But Souder had turned his personal hypocrisy into a crashing spectacle. Even New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat in a fairly liberal state, couldn't survive visiting a call girl after railing against prostitution.
Self-righteous moralizers fall off their pedestals all the time. It happens like clockwork. More interesting is the psychology that makes them think they're going to get away with it.
Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal spent last Tuesday in a press conference called to explain his false claim to have served in Vietnam. (It was reported everywhere with a 76-trombone band.) Although the Democratic senatorial candidate has truthfully described his Vietnam era activities in recent months, he did tell a group of veterans and elderly in 2008 that "we have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam, and you exemplify it."
Though troubling, this is not career-ending, as some lies are. Blumenthal did serve in the Marines Corps Reserve, and exaggerations about military service are commonplace. What did boggle the mind was seeing a seasoned and methodical politician trying to pull that off.
Unfortunately for Blumenthal, his Republican foe has a fat checkbook and a team of investigators looking for his inconsistencies. Fortunately, said opponent is Linda McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment. Her business traffics in steroids, filthy language, sex and violence -- and markets it all to children.
Furthermore, McMahon's staff had boasted about feeding the scoop to the media. Finding dirt is to be expected in the course of political battle. Bragging about humiliating an opponent is another thing -- especially in Connecticut, where politics tend to be civil.
Days after the scandal broke, Blumenthal was eking out a lead in the polls. He has months to continue apologizing, and McMahon has a mouth made for self-destruction.
Connecticut Republicans could have chosen Rob Simmons, instead. A former congressman from New London, Simmons is both a gentleman and a genuine Vietnam vet with two Bronze Stars. He was also more qualified, not that anyone cared.
Shortly after winning the Republican senatorial nomination in Kentucky, Rand Paul has made two major-league gaffes. He had to cancel a date with "Meet the Press" for self-preservation.
Non-Republicans had started asking him questions in public. Did he think that wouldn't happen?
Paul's remark that he would not have supported the Civil Rights Act -- followed by a denial -- was not tricked from him. It flowed out of a discussion with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Paul's trademark issue -- radically shrinking the size and scope of government. A holder of offbeat political views should have ironed out responses to tough philosophical questions by now.
Paul also called President Obama's criticism of BP's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster "un-American." His handlers clearly have their work cut out for them.
None of these politicians suffered a slip of tongue. All had been through the electoral wringer. Was it arrogance? The thrill of risk-taking? What could they possibly have been thinking?
Froma Harrop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.