Laura Schlessinger has confused many lives with her often inane and knee-jerk moralizing. But two weeks ago even she outdid herself, as she blamed Eliot Spitzer’s long-suffering wife, Silda, for her husband’s unfaithfulness with a prostitute. Speaking on the Today show, Schlessinger opined, "When the wife does not focus in on the needs and the feelings sexually, personally, to make him feel like a man, to make him feel like a success, to make him feel like our hero, he’s very susceptible to the charm of some other woman making him feel what he needs. These days, women don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how they can give their men what they need."
Oh, these poor neglected husbands whose rebellious wives have pushed them into being porn and sex addicts. One can only imagine the unspeakable privations visited upon the likes of Kobe Bryant, forcing them to find tawdry sex with strangers in hotel rooms, when all they wanted was a small sliver of affection from their distant, narcissistic wives. And we cannot even begin to imagine the unspeakable anguish of someone like Hugh Hefner, forced to roam from body to body and bed to bed, all because no woman has had the basic courtesy to cater to his emotional and sexual needs. To all you women out there I ask, have you no shame, have you no decency?
How sad that in the wake of the Eliot Spitzer tragedy we get Schlessinger’s blame-the-victim drivel rather than an honest discussion on the downfall of the American male.
Men today are cheating not because their wives do not love them but because they do not love themselves, not because their wives are not caring but because their perforated sense of self is immune to affection. Were their wives to shower them with all the love in the world, it would simply seep through the broken shards of their shattered egos. Propelled to succeed by an all-encompassing fear of failure and thrown into a rat race without limit, the broken American male never feels as if he is ever good enough and chooses destructive escapes to compensate.
Powerful men like Eliot Spitzer are especially susceptible to the irrational self-hatred and incurable self-loathing that is increasingly affecting the American male. Whatever level of achievement he attains, it is never enough to quiet the inner demons that tell him he is worthless. A culture built on soulless success has raised a generation of men to believe they are anonymous unless they accumulate money or fame, with women being yet another prized possession that accrues to the alpha male.
Trained to feel as if they are important only through professional achievement, these men are clueless as to how to be in a relationship. They know how to master rather than relate, how to conquer rather than open up, how to manipulate rather than connect. For the man to whom power is an aphrodisiac, paying a woman for sex becomes an erotic thrill. And men with low self-esteem are profoundly susceptible to women who are not their wives. The man who sees himself as a loser sees the woman dumb enough to marry him as a loser squared. His wife’s affection, therefore, cannot make him feel like a winner. It is only the woman to whom he is not married, the one who has not been devalued through a merger with a failure, who can make him feel consequential. And a woman who is so desirable that a night with her can set you back a thousand dollars can make a guy feel like a million bucks.
Bill Clinton may have been the most powerful man in the world. But all that power could not inflate an ego so punctured that it sought significance in a liaison with an all-too-ordinary intern who understood the depth of his need to feel good about himself.
Three weeks ago in Los Angeles I debated my dear friend Dennis Prager, the brilliant radio host and public intellectual, on whether men or women are more responsible for the breakdown of the American family. I argued that broken men are undermining their families, Dennis argued that the blame was equally shared. Now Dennis has always been a mentor to me. But come on! You have to be blind not to see that men are in crisis. They are three times more likely to cheat on a spouse, eight times more likely to abandon their children (how often do you hear of a dead-beat Mom?), commit 98 percent of all violent crimes, and stand a decent chance of becoming porn addicts. Even if they overcome the porn, they usually end up as sports and TV addicts who spend, on average, three hours per day in front of the boob tube. And that’s three hours where they are not helping with the dishes, putting the kids to sleep, or making love to their wives.
Sex for men has become a game of mastery rather than intimacy. A shocking statistic from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published providentially on the same day as the news about the Spitzer scandal, showed that one in four female American teens has a sexually transmitted disease. Millions of teenage boys are pushing girls to have sex well before their bodies are ready, and without any kind of protection. The long list of recent sexual scandals among powerful men should likewise spur us to action.
The solution is to set a new definition of success among American men that is dependent not on becoming the competent governor of a state but on becoming the responsible head of a household. The great man is not only he who can balance state budgets but he who helps his children with their algebra. Not he who hits home runs but he who runs home to be with his family. Not he who wins primaries but he who makes his wife and his children primary.
In this political season, it is in vogue to believe that pulling a lever for a particular candidate will bring us the change we desire. But it is we who have to change. America is not wanting for talented senators and industrious politicians. Rather, it is wanting for loving husbands and devoted fathers.
In the final analysis what the people of New York think of Eliot Spitzer is not nearly as important as what his wife and children think of him — because you are not a success in life if the people who mean the most to you think the least of you.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who lives in Englewood, hosts a daily national radio show on "Oprah and Friends." His book "The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him" has just been published by St. Martin’s Press.