For 30 years Robert E. Bauman's life was politics. Now, after almost two years of fighting public ridicule, he has retreated, forced to begin living life without politics. That life, he says, is often a lonely one.
"It's a most ingenious paradox," said the former three-term congressman, sitting on the porch of his historic farmhouse here. "I think I am better equipped than ever to serve in the U.S. Congress. I have a better understanding of people, and of myself, than I ever did.
"But in order to produce that, I had to go through that which makes it impossible for me to serve in the context of politics today."
It has been nearly two years since Bauman, known in Congress as a dogmatic defender of the right, called a press conference here in this conservative Eastern Shore town to admit that he was a victim of "the twin compulsions of alcoholism and homosexuality." Even though the confession cost him his seat in Congress, Bauman now says that in many ways it was a relief to be forced to look within himself.
"For years and years I was falling apart inside, that is if I was ever together," he said softly. "I was tearing myself up inside for 20 years.
"Remember one thing," he said. "I never expected to be elected to Congress. In fact I never thought I would be elected to anything, the state senate, nothing. Every time I won an election I was like the reporters who count a guy out and then look up the next day and say, 'Hey, the bum won.' That was the way I thought of myself.
"I had a very low opinion of myself for reasons that should be obvious."
The voice was even softer now. "What Thoreau said about the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation is true for most people, I think. A person can't carry around those feelings and fears about yourself, about personal tendencies that you have been told and believed all your life are wrong."
Bauman was asked if "personal tendencies" was a reference to homosexuality.
"Yes," he answered.
"I had been taught to repress just about every feeling I might have had," he said. "I converted to Catholicism at the age of 14 and I had a strict Catholic upbringing.
"You can't add the pressure of public life to the internal pressures I had and expect it not to blow up in your face. In some ways I am a grateful alcoholic, not that I'm grateful all this happened in any way but that I wish something had happened 20 years earlier.
"I never said alcoholism was the cause of my conduct," he continued. "People said I used alcoholism as an excuse for what I did but I did not. It may have contributed to what finally happened but that's all. I said out front that I was wrong and admitted what I did.
"Some people have told me that was a mistake, that I should have denied everything and taken it to court. I'm not sure they could have won in court and I probably would have won the election by denying it. But I didn't."
Bauman said then that he had sinned, had confessed to God and been forgiven. Now, he was asked if he still considered homosexuality a sin. "That cuts so close to the quick I don't even want to respond to it," he said.
"Certainly, I sinned. There were responsibilities of fatherhood and matrimony involved."
Bauman's political odyssey, one of a swift, seemingly inexorable rise followed by a stunning fall, ended 17 days ago in this picturesque town when he announced that he was giving up his attempt to regain his seat in Congress. The 45-year-old Republican said then, and says now, that he was hounded out of the race by threats from staffers of his principal opponent in the GOP primary, C.A. Porter Hopkins. Bauman alleges that Hopkins' aides harassed him and told him they would spread stories about his personal life that would harm his candidacy immeasurably. Hopkins and his staff have denied Bauman's charges and both the U.S. Attorney and Talbot County state's attorney said they could find no basis for Bauman's allegations.
In the fall of 1980, Bauman appeared headed for an easy reelection to the First Congressional District seat in the House. Another convincing victory (he first won in a special election and went on to win three full terms) would set the stage for him to challenge Democrat Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes in 1982. But in October, at a hearing in D.C. Superior Court, it was disclosed that Bauman had solicited sex from a teen-age boy. Five days later, Bauman admitted to "twin compulsions toward alcoholism and homosexuality."
Since that day, Bauman has been a haunted man.
A month later he lost the congressional seat to Democrat Roy P. Dyson (by four percentage points) but Bauman still believed he could come back. So, even as he practiced law in Easton, he began planning his 1982 campaign.
"I guess I was still going on nervous energy and ego left over from all those years in Congress," he said. "I really believed I could take it, that what people said or wrote wouldn't bother me, that I would become inured to it."
In the summer of 1981, Bauman's long time friend and pollster Arthur Finkelstein showed him a poll that indicated he could beat Dyson. At the same time, Finkelstein begged Bauman not to run.
"He told me it would be brutal, that I couldn't imagine the kinds of things I would have to put up with," Bauman said. "He was right, I couldn't. It was everything he said it would be and more. I could have beaten Hopkins, I would have beaten him. But what I finally realized was there's always going to be a Hopkins in my life.
"There were some who said if I went back to Congress all the talk would die by 1984 but my final consensus was it wouldn't. I'll carry this thing to my grave with me, I'll never escape it. I just decided I didn't need that kind of thing on a daily installment plan for the rest of my life."
And so, on the summer days when he thought he would be out shaking hands with people and dueling with Sarbanes, Bauman sits alone in his house, a politician with no race to run, his only company his dog Ruthie.
But there are still signs of the rapier-like wit: "It doesn't bother me not to be running for the Senate," he said. "The Senate of the United States can screw itself up without my help."
But more often the once strident voice is soft, the questions, it seems, almost painful.
Bauman's wife, Carol, stuck by him in 1980, campaigning with him everywhere. But on June 29, the couple was granted an uncontested divorce. She now lives in Northern Virginia with three of Bauman's four children. One daughter, Vicky, 14, lives with Bauman, but last week she was away, leaving the six rolling acres almost empty.
"I have lost terribly because of what happened," Bauman said. "I lost a marriage and I lost a seat in Congress, that which had been my life's ambition. But at least now I'm free. I feel good about myself. I said I've had enough and I have. The press didn't believe me, a lot of people in the district don't believe me. Never is a very long time, I know that. But as far as I'm concerned it's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing the scurrilous stories and the crap, really awful crap, that's been said about me.
"I've paid a very high price for my wrongs, I don't think anyone would argue with that. I guess I finally said, go through that again? For what? Once, all I could see to life was being in the U.S. Congress, but now I know that's not true.
"The other night at the dinner table my daughter Vicky turned to me and said, 'you know, dad, horrible as this has been, I don't feel that bad because I've really gotten to know you.' That makes it easier to take."
But now, Bauman admits, he is a man with a past that has created an uncertain future. Less than two years ago he was considered one of the bright lights in the New Right, a man respected even by his congressional colleagues who found his ideology abhorrent. Now, he is a political outcast.
"I really don't know where I'll go or what I'll do now," he said. "According to the actuary tables I should have almost half my life left. I know there's more to life than politics, it's taken me a long time to realize that. But exactly what I'll do next, I'm really not sure."
Bauman was walking through his backyard now towards the dock where he used to park his boat in happier times. It was a gorgeous summer day and Bauman was giving a history of the area and some of the people who lived on surrounding properties.
On one side had lived George Washington's aide-de-camp, and across the creek Boss Tweed had a hideout.
"And then of course there's the notorious Bob Bauman," he said without laughing.
"I suppose it's like Oscar Wilde said, 'the real crime is getting caught.' " He laughed briefly. "I should probably think twice about quoting Wilde. But he also said that in some ways it is easier to have been stupid or just an observer of events. I'm glad I wasn't an observer. I took the risks."