What’s worse: Adultery or hypocrisy?
Campbell Brown of CNN raised this question Wednesday night on her show in reporting on the story that Republican Senator John Ensign had admitted to an affair with an Ensign campaign staffer who was married to an Ensign office staffer. (How did they manage those logistics?)
My vote is squarely on hypocrisy, a particular speciality of the Republican right.
As an article in the Washington Post Style section today points out,
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our imaginations when it comes to
political scandals have gotten pretty wild. Mostly because, in recent
years, we have seen some seriously "Law & Order"-worthy stuff:
Sting operations in bathroom stalls (Larry Craig). Lewd IM exchanges
with underage pages (Mark Foley). Prostitution rings frequented by a
governor who spearheaded prosecution of prostitution rings (Eliot
Spitzer). Plus, John Edwards. Plus, Kwame Kilpatrick. Plus, David
The Ensign affair, according to Eric Dezenhall of the
Washington crisis management firm Dezenhall Resources:
is really vanilla. The thing about
Edwards and Craig and Foley and Spitzer is that they had a radioactive
element. Not all crises are created equal. [This one, at least,] is on
the grid. It’s not an exotic type of thing.
To be honest, I don’t care about Ensign’s relationship antics, whether they are vanilla or a new Ben and Jerry’s Nevada Yucca Mountain Nuclear Swirl. People make mistakes, have complicated lives, have complicated sexual encounters..and these were consenting adults. I am not condoning or condemning. I would normally just consider these issues a matter of privacy and one to be taken up with his wife and family.
But for one thing: For Ensign, no one else’s relationships were private enough for him to offer the same consideration. No social issue was too complex not to reduce to a caricature for political gain. No marginalized group too vulnerable not to pillory.
He was a Republican moralist. He went after Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky debacle with full-force, and more-than-wagged his holier-than-thou finger at many other people who were caught out having affairs.
He is a far-righter’s fantasy Senator. According to "On The Issues," Ensign had a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition on "pro-family issues," (whatever those are according to their definition), opposed anti-discrimination legislation to protect gay, lesbian and transgender persons, opposes gay marriage, is anti-choice and has consistently voted against funding for comprehensive sex education and for services and information that would reduce teen pregnancy. Hewed to the far right line on virtually every single issue and vote. Kinda scary.
What is more…he is a "Promise Keeper," who pledged to keep the 7 promises, including:
- PROMISE 3: A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
- PROMISE 4: A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.
So to repeat, I really wouldn’t care, but for the fact that Ensign and many of the guys like him seem to be locked in some political version of Ground Hog Day, with different lead actors. Rise, fall, redemption; rise, fall, redemption. Aspiring politician falls in line with the extreme right and toes the party line. Gets elected Senator. Moralizes and pontificates about gays, abortion, sex, marriage, welfare, "constitutional purity" and so on. Starts to eye party leadership and the Presidency. Decides he is above the rules he himself has set in stone, so breaks them and has an affair. Then all hell breaks loose and for whatever reason he has to disclose it and do damage control.
Now, it appears that beyond the sexual infidelity, there may also be abuse of government funds. The Washington Post also reports today that Ensign may have improperly paid his aide, Cynthia Hampton, and her husband.
Cynthia Hampton’s salary
doubled in 2008 during the time she had the affair with Ensign. Her
husband got an additional two weeks of pay in April 2008 (two months
before the affair ended) and their son was put on the payroll until the
affair ended in mid August 2008.
So the guy who railed against those "welfare queens" was doling it out to his lover and her husband.
And to add insult to injury, he now is on the "redemption circuit," whereby the careful manipulation of his image is intended to get him back in the Republican attack-dog position as quickly as possible.
"He was able to control the story by running to it, not away from it,"
says Michael Robinson of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington.
And says the Post:
There was only the news conference, the
I’m-just-a-man admissions of his own weakness, the no questions, please.
He also went solo to avoid triggering the resentment of female voters:
His solo appearance (unlike the wives of other fallen pols, Darlene Ensign conspicuously chose not
to stand by her man, though her statement insists they’re reconciled)
also gets a nod of approval. "We counsel men not to have their wives
standing there," Smith says. When women do, viewers "see hurt, they see
pain . . . and it just makes him look that much more guilty."
And…says the Post, "He’s even dressed in proper apology attire."
He’s not wearing a
power suit," notes Scott Sobel of D.C. PR firm Media &
Communication Strategies. "He chose vulnerability. You don’t want to
walk out there with a suit and a red tie the way you might during an
official conference." It’s better to look like a private citizen:
humbled, faulty, apologetic.
"Choosing vulnerability," looking "humbled, faulty, apologetic….".
All about the image. All about the show.
All about hypocrisy, which I am beginning to think is one of the greatest sins of all.
Is any of the redemption real? Does it make him any more sympathetic to the real plight of real people with complex lives?
How long will it take before he’s back railing about family values, promiscuous youth, fetal rights, and other contrived social ills?
Let’s wait and see.