Suzanne Garment's ''Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics'' -- The author explains why scandal damages our government

When the Senate hearings on Clarence Thomas turned into a national referendum on sexual behavior, Suzanne Garment was not surprised. ”This was a scandal waiting to happen,” she says. ”Since Watergate we have had a proliferation of sexual-coercion charges directed at political figures. It was only a matter of time before (such a) scandal moved center stage.”

Something of an expert on the intersection of the personal and the political, Garment, 45, is not only the wife of Leonard Garment — Richard Nixon’s lawyer during Watergate — but the author of Scandal: The Culture of Mistrust in American Politics. A journalist and self-described gossip junkie, Garment has long followed the salacious side of politics and is convinced that scandal is now a damaging part of the political process. ”We cannot have a maximum airing of these matters and have maximum facility in government,” she says. When challenged that, as in the case of sexual harassment, scandal often airs serious issues, Garment resists the notion. ”The prosecution of all these scandals is meant to raise the tone of government. But you’re going to keep good people out of office and alienate the public.” However much Garment deplores the role of private matters in public life, she hopes it doesn’t fade from our political landscape too soon. ”After all,” she says of the Thomas hearings, ”it was bad for the nation, but great for the book.”