Sanford, Sex, and Slick Willie's Last Laugh

Perfection is an impossible standard.

Once again, our media potentates get to enjoy their favorite entertainment: crucifying a Republican caught with his pants down.  Thanks to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's inability to exercise personal discipline or self-control, his career is over, his family is destroyed, and the cause of fiscal conservatism - his signature issue - takes yet another hole below the waterline.

And for what?  The mysterious Maria from Argentina is reportedly beautiful, intelligent, talented, and desirable in every way.  Well, she'd better be, in order to be worth giving up your entire life for.  As Fox News says,

Like star-crossed lovers, the two wrote of their "impossible love," and while the mistress's English was at times imperfect, the two expressed deep feelings for each other using language that was more poetic than lurid.


Why is it that Republicans have this problem?  As the Left is gleefully asking, are there any conservatives who are faithful to their wives?

Dalliances by Sen. John Ensign (R, NV), Sen. David Vitter (R, LA) - let's not even mention Mark Foley or Larry Craig - barely scratch the surface.  Newt Gingrich and John McCain famously ditched their crippled first wives for younger, wealthier new models.  No hint of unfaithfulness has ever approached Mitt Romney, but he is a member of a religion more famous for its erstwhile doctrine of polygamy than anything else.

Sex and the Busy Bigshot

Powerful people have always had mistresses - it comes with the territory.  JFK famously bedded everyone from Marilyn Monroe to a teenaged intern.  President Warren Harding got in so deep with a German-loving mistress - during the First World War - that the Republican National Committee had to save his bacon with a large bribe.

Grover Cleveland's affair with a store clerk was so well known and fruitful that it resulted in an opposition campaign ditty - "Ma, ma, where's my pa? Gone to the White House, ha ha ha!"  FDR and Ike Eisenhower had mistresses of long standing; whether Thomas Jefferson sired an alternative family with his slave Sally Hemings is debated to this day.

As this brief list shows, infidelity is a staunchly bipartisan vice.  There's also no shortage of currently sitting - or should we say, reclining - politicians on the other side of the aisle.  Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd's escapades at the La Brasserie restaurant are the stuff of legend.

Barney Frank at least did not prey on others' wives or unsuspecting waitresses; he conveniently lived with the operator of a homosexual prostitution ring at a time when homosexuality was a crime.  Presumably he got a discount rate, unlike Governor Spitzer who seems to have paid a bit above list price.

Why is it that Republicans pay such a terrible toll for adventures that Democrats mostly brush off with impunity?  Articles about Sanford, Ensign, and Vitter invariable bring up the impeachment of Bill Clinton, when those Republicans condemned Slick Willie for the same vice that, some years later, they themselves fell prey to.  We all love schaudenfreude and hate hypocrites; down with the frauds!

Yes, Bill Clinton's impeachment trial set the state for today's constant Republican bimbo eruptions and subsequent hara-kiri, but not in the way the media likes to portray it.  For as much as the news of that time liked to portray the impeachment as all about sex, it was not.

Illicit sex is a moral failure, yes, and moral failures in an elected official are worthy of reporting; as Sam Adams wrote, "The public cannot be too curious concerning the characters of public men."  But adultery is not an impeachable offense.

The crimes Bill Clinton committed which, by rights, should have resulted in his removal from office were 1) taking sexual advantage of a subordinate government employee, which if done by anyone else would land them in jail, and 2) committing perjury when he swore before a judge that "I did not have sex with that woman," another crime that would put you behind bars if you tried it.

How can the chief law enforcement officer of the United States break the law himself, and then lie to a judge about it?  When President Nixon (R) did that, he was rightly hounded from office.  Why not President Clinton (D)?

Clinton's Revenge

Because in a strange way, Clinton hid behind his sexual hound-dogging.  The country was so captivated by lurid tales of blue dresses and cigars that the very real underlying legal issues were almost entirely obscured.  As so often, the Republican leadership utterly failed to get their message across; maybe they didn't even properly understand the distinction themselves.

Clinton's impeachment, though unsuccessful, destroyed the remainder of his presidency, but the way it was portrayed has destroyed the Republican party.  America now thoroughly believes that Republicans are 100% opposed to all forms of extramarital sex and that any true Republican who commits such an offense is a traitor to his beliefs who must immediately resign.

Democrats, on the other hand, don't see anything wrong with sex - so they can do as they please, and as long as it's not illegal, they pay no price.

This is wrong.  It's unfair.  It's untrue.  It's not even possible - even the most religious understand that mankind is fallen and commits sins by definition.

A Republican party composed entirely of perfect angels would be a very small one indeed - in fact, just about the size that the Democrats and the media would like it to be, and nevertheless prone to explosively destructive scandal at any time.

Unfortunately, that's precisely the corner that the Republican leadership of ten years ago has painted today's Republicans into.  In their zeal to hang Bill Clinton by any rope to hand, they not only let him escape, but put a permanent noose around their own necks - and all their successors, forever, as long as men - or Republicans, at least - still look upon a woman to lust after her.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Partisanship.
Reader Comments
So, if you can't meet the standard, lower the bar.

Just sounds left wing. But then I've become convinced that the political spectrum is not linear, but circular. The extreme left and right come back together. So, maybe lowering the bar is a right wing concept also.

However, if one wants to be really radical, why not keep the standard and eliminate the weeds? It takes years to eliminate perennial weeds from a weedy field. But it's well worth the effort. One can sure get a lot done, fast, with a clean field. Sure, new weeds spring up every year, but they are easier to eliminate if one keeps after them every year.

Anybody can have a weedy field. A weedy field is a sign of laziness. It seems both the left and the right have been lax. But, as the author said, the left doesn't care about weeds. Perhaps perhaps maybe the right doesn't really care either? Or is it just too hard to hoe out the weeds?

It would be a shame if the only perceivable difference between the left and right was who did what with whose money.

June 26, 2009 12:50 PM
Well, here's the underlying question: Should everything WRONG also be ILLEGAL? If not, what wrong actions that are not illegal should nevertheless be disqualifying for high office?

And wherever the line is drawn, shouldn't it be applied equally to everyone?
June 26, 2009 1:35 PM
"Perhaps perhaps maybe the right doesn't really care either"

Ding ding ding. There's your answer. These guys don't *really* care, they just want you to *think* they do so they can collect your vote. The GOP has been worthless for at least a decade.
June 26, 2009 1:46 PM
The NYT agrees.

The Prurient Trap
Conservatives used sexual morality as a weapon and now it's shooting them in the foot.
June 27, 2009 11:00 AM
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