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You stray, you pay: thou shalt not commit adultery--but if you do, you'll have to fill out some paperwork.

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WHAT DO YOU GET FOR THE GUY WHO HAS everything? What does a fellow with more money, power, and fame than anyone needs really want? If you have been reading the papers or watching cable TV during the last year, you might think the answer is not a brand new yacht, private airplane, or billion-dollar mansion, but a scandalous, marriage-wrecking affair.

Month after month millions of Americans have watched an endless parade of high and mighty politicians, sports heroes, and celebrities take a turn having their scandalous affairs and sordid laundry splashed all over the headlines and evening news. It's almost as if these little tales were a ritual of middle-aged manhood for the nation's rich and famous. Perhaps when you are that powerful, a little red sports car is not enough.

THOUGH THE LITANY OF HIGH-PROFILE ADULTERERS SEEMS longer than a presidential campaign season, a few of these scandalous bad boys have managed to rise above (more like below) the larger pack of sinners, offering particularly striking examples of stupid behavior.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford told his staff he was taking a stroll on the Appalachian Trail, but it turned out the governor was straying a lot farther from home and was stepping out with his Argentine mistress.

Then Tiger Woods got some golf lessons from his wife, Elin, when she took out a window in the back of his SUV with a golf club. Seems Mrs. Woods wasn't happy to discover that her athlete husband had been playing tiddlywinks with Rachel Uchitel and nearly 20 other adoring female fans.

And on one night not so long ago, late night television host David Letterman confessed in as comic a tone as possible that he had engaged in sexual relations with a number of female staffers, even though he had been in a long-term relationship with the woman who is the mother of his child and his recent bride.

Still, if there is an Oscar for this type of adulterous behavior, then North Carolina's John Edwards should certainly get the golden figurine for a scandal that has gone on longer than Gone with the Wind. Exhibiting behavior and judgment that would make Bill Clinton blush, the former senator and presidential candidate left his cancer-stricken wife to have an affair in the middle of a presidential campaign, then had a staffer take responsibility for fathering the resulting child. Oh Johnny Boy, we hardly know where to start the litany of complaints against you.

THIS ENDLESS MARATHON OF SEX SCANDALS IS distasteful and disheartening, which makes me wonder why this parade of high-profile adulterers is so rarely blamed for undermining the sanctity or stability of marriage.

Equally discouraging is the zeal with which our news-entertainment industry rakes in billions of dollars telling and retelling these ugly tales as if they were news, as well as the mindless eagerness with which we viewers consume these salacious tales like stale popcorn.

Passing a law against all this scandalous behavior would not do any good. Prohibition and America's epic war on drugs have proven one thing: When you criminalize a vice, you just end up with jails and prisons overflowing with folks too poor to get good lawyers. And in a country that has already crowded 2 million people into its prisons and jails, we hardly need to start rounding up all the adulterers. Who would be left to run things?

I DO HAVE A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR ADDRESSING the ongoing saga of bad boy behavior among powerful men: a sin tax for adulterers making more than $200,000 a year. I am calling for a progressive tax that would climb with the income and assets of the cheater. A small CEO in Tampa would pay a fraction of what Tiger Woods or David Letterman might owe.

This tax would also increase in direct proportion to the fame and influence of the adulterer. An unknown philanderer who gets caught in the act would be charged far less than an icon whose tale we had to watch every night for months.

And the same tax would also be imposed on any media outlet that ran a sex scandal story for more than 24 hours. One Tiger Woods story is fine. Thirty episodes of the Woods saga becomes a tax liability.

I propose this new tax because all the other sin taxes currently in place are imposed on the poor and working class. The heavy taxes we impose on tobacco and alcohol are borne mostly by those least likely to afford them. Disproportionate numbers of the poor and working class take up smoking and become addicted for life.

And as cash-strapped states have balanced their budgets in the last three decades by introducing legalized gambling, it is the low-income segment of our population that has contributed a disproportionate share of its wages and rent to state coffers, resulting in a disproportionate loss of its livelihood.

Now, as these same states try to balance their books by introducing a soda tax, it will be in poor and working-class neighborhoods that the largest chunk of this high fructose corn syrup tax will be collected.

IN THE BIBLE GOD DEMANDED THAT TITHES AND taxes paid to the pharaohs, kings, and Caesar be reversed, and that the Hebrews instead pay a tax to take care of the widows, orphans, and poor. The Bible also argues that all of us are sinners. So if we are going to have sin taxes, the burden should not fall on the poor. Instead, let us have sin taxes that take a bite out of the wallets of the rich, and put some money in the poor box for those most sinned against.

McCormick's quick takes

Movies that show cheaters never prosper:

Fatal Attraction (Paramount, 1987)

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Presumed Innocent (Warner Bros., 1990)

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State of Play (Universal, 2009)

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By PATRICK McCORMICK, professor of Christian ethics at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
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Title Annotation:culture in context
Author:McCormick, Patrick
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
Words:992
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