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The Smart Politician's Guide To Avoiding Scandal

Politics may be show business for ugly people, but you don't have to be ugly about it yourself.

It's become a cliche to describe the endless series of Republican presidential debates as a reality show. But lately a lot of politicians have been acting as though they were looking to secure a spot on the "now trending" lists of Internet search engines.

Secretly donating sperm to lesbians in New Zealand? Seriously?

The truth is, if you're a politician, you don't have to engage in any kind of wild or outlandish behavior to become the talk of the Internet and cable news. People are already prepared to think the worst of you, so any minor indiscretion is likely to turn you into a laughingstock.

That's why you have to be careful. There are a lot of land mines and social pitfalls you have to avoid.

To spare politicians further embarrassment, we have prepared this list of do's and, mainly, don'ts. The downsides are simply too great.

Don't make it clear you like your mistress more than your wife.

Maybe former House Speaker Newt Gingrich didn't ask his second wife for an "open marriage" so he could continue his affair with the woman who became his third wife. But Mark Sanford, then the governor of South Carolina, definitely did state that his Argentine mistress was his "soul mate." If you're caught having an affair or engaging in sexual harassment — and let's face it, you're a politician — say it was a youthful indiscretion; say, "I don't even know who this lady is"; even try the old tactic of begging your wife to stand next to you before the cameras. Just don't admit it was any fun.

As long as they're still processing film, use it for your dirty pictures.

Digital photography can only get you into trouble. These aren't your father's dirty Polaroids, safely tucked under the bed. Naked pictures of yourself not only can but will spread far beyond your control. Remember "Shirtless" Chris Lee, the Craigslist congressman? But if somehow a picture you took of your own crotch becomes public, say "with certitude" that you took it yourself. Denial just makes you look bad.

When making a bet with your opponents, don't make the stakes higher than what they earn in a week.

Ten thousand bucks may just be pocket change to you, but for a lot of the "little people," you're talking about real money. Even Gingrich had to come up with a week-and-a-half's worth of history lessons to earn that kind of dough from Freddie Mac.

If you're selling a U.S. Senate seat or anything really good, don't do it over the phone.

Didn't you watch The Wire? Or even The Sopranos? Those pesky feds might have tapped your phone. You can try claiming it was all just talk, but that only works with some juries and won't help you hold on to your job.

Once you are on trial for corruption charges, don't solicit bribes to pay your legal bills.

It's the easy way to find free money. But this is what got you into trouble in the first place, remember? Do yourself a favor and raise funds by trying out for a real reality show (if they'll let you out of the country).

When trying to remember more than one thing, write it on your hand.

Yes, they made fun of Sarah Palin for it. The sad thing is, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was with her at that particular Tea Party rally. Think how much embarrassment he could have saved himself if he'd remembered that trick and simply jotted down "Commerce-Education-Energy."

Don't try to have sex in the men's room.

Don't believe the graffiti. This isn't the 1950s. There are plenty of other places where you can find anonymous hookups. The only people who will accept your advances in a men's room are cops. Just ask Larry Craig. Or this guy.

Don't stick your finger in the president's face.

Just don't. No matter how many TV shows you go on to explain that he provoked you, you'll end up looking bad. Just don't. (Even if it does boost the Amazon ranking for your new book.)

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