NEW YORK – Gary Condit, Bill Clinton, Bob Livingston, Gary Hart: the names are now synonymous with the affairs that derailed their careers.
While it seems the humiliating consequences of these scandals would deter anyone from seeking extramarital attention, psychologists say the contrary is true: Discovering that state leaders cheat plants the idea in constituents' heads — no matter how fatal the attraction.
"They'll say if Condit can do it, if Hollywood actors and sports stars can do it, it must be OK," said relationships expert Dr. Tina Tessina. "It's one more way to rationalize [the behavior]."
This was precisely the attitude of Madison, Wis., business consultant Jabriel Hamafi, who cheated in all four of his marriages.
"When the Clinton thing came up, there was a sense of a bit of a justification," Hamafi said.
While Hamafi, 57, concedes he was a "jerk" to his wives, suffering from "bad morals" and "bad character," he said he appreciated Clinton more after Monica. "It was healthy, terrific … good God, we're human," he said.
Far from serving as moral leaders for our country, Hamafi said politicians who cheat allow him and other cheaters to rationalize what they've done in the past or would like to do.
"We'll use anything to justify ourselves," he said.
But as once-mighty heads of state become fodder for late-night comedians, doesn't the message sink in that infidelity is not taken lightly in America? Tessina said no.
"The consequences don't do too much to discourage people from this behavior," she said. "People who do it are out of control to begin with."
Instead of being a deterrent, Tessina said Condit's affair with missing federal intern Chandra Levy is more likely to inspire potential cheaters.
"We don't glorify lasting relationships, or domestic happiness," she said. "They'll think 'he gets all this sex' ... and they'll be envious."
Marriage expert Dr. Neil Warren said sex scandals are also dangerous in the way they falsely perpetuate the idea that "everybody's doing it."
"The best study on sex in America in the past five years, done at the University of Chicago, found that only 6 percent of marrieds were involved outside the marriage in the course of a year," Warren said. "You hear that politicians, entertainers, even the clergy are having affairs and then you think 'everybody's doing this,' but they're not," he said.
In fact, Warren said infidelity is largely relegated to the rich and powerful.
"It tends to happen more among people, like politicians, who in their daily work are pumping adrenaline like crazy. Look at athletes — Wilt Chamberlain said he slept with at least 20,000 women. Magic Johnson said he slept with three women a day. These people need a way to keep the high going."
However, hearing media pundits spout things like "Who isn't cheating in Congress?" could lead to a monkey-see, monkey-do phenomenon, Warren said.
"There's no question that for anybody who thinks cheating is a great way to feel better about his or her life, this makes doing it an easier boundary to cross," he said.
And while there are not as many female politicians involved in sex scandals, perhaps because there are fewer females in politics, experts said women too are influenced when their female role models cheat.
Susan Shapiro Barash, author of A Passion for More: Wives Reveal the Affairs That Made or Broke Their Marriages, said that when celebrities such as Meg Ryan and Melanie Griffith have affairs, it makes women wonder if they could do it too.
"It represents freedom and choice. They may look and say 'this appeals to me more than the status quo,'" Barash said.
But she said affairs such as Condit's would not inspire women to stray.
"I don't think that women identify with men. Men identify with men, women with women," she said.
Fox News correspondent and relationships expert Dr. Georgia Witkin said celebrity influence was, luckily, not likely to influence very many people to cheat. But she did not deny the effect of the scandals on the American psyche.
"The sad part is we are programmed to live in communities — to check out each other's behavior. The more it happens, it's inevitable, the more we think about doing it, which leads to a sense of dissatisfaction with what we have," she said.
The net result? A nation of people lusting in their hearts, perhaps.