By Don Klein
In a story about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's return after a five day disappearance, Jim Rutenberg, of The New York Times Washington Bureau, referred to problems the Republican Party has been having lately with scandals and how that could effect the party's presidential prospects in 2012. He wrote:
"Then Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a fiscal conservative seen by many Republicans as an attractive standard-bearer for the next presidential campaign, went missing. Worse, he returned." How true.
We all thought he was hiking along the Appalachian trail and was out of touch when the governor fessed up and admitted he was in Argentina meeting with his paramour. In a mia culpa moment he finally told the world the truth.
For anyone who watched the painful public confession of infidelity as the seemingly confused and disraught Sanford came clean about his adultery and his effort to conceal his behavior with lies about his whereabouts, there had to be a feeling of sympathy for the poor man. But the instinct for compassion goes only so far and should be resisted in this case. After all, the man dug his own hole. He is not the victim.
I resist making moral judgments about people, especially about those whom I have no personal relationship. I really don't think it is anyone's business who is having sex with whom as long as it is consensual. Even if it is a tragic case that could end a marriage or a long standing interpersonal connection, it is not for me, or anyone else, to judge.
On the other hand I believe it is critical that public officials should be held to high standards of behavior, that they should not lie to their constituencies and above all never be hypocritical. Unfortunately it seems when a trusted public figure becomes a philanderer all these negative aspects come into play. First there are the lies to coverup the act. Then there is the public confession and plea for understanding. Worst of all when we look back over their record we usually find flagrant hypocracy.
That's the only level upon which to judge a public official who has strayed from the straight and narrow. It is not the sex or the spousal betrayal with which the public should concern itself. Those are personal matters. The public's only consideration should be focused on the elected official's lies and hypocracy -- and if pertinent, the commission of a crime.
When Gov. Sanford was a congressman way back in the late 1990s he chastised President Clinton for his adultery and demanded that Clinton resign because he had violated his "marriage oath." Shouldn't those demands now be applicable to Sanford himself? As long as Sanford remains in office it proves that his demand for Clinton's resignation was no more than a political stunt that even he did not believe in. Sanford deserves no sympathy from me despite his pathetic display of remorse. He should resign for lying and being a hypocrite.
I couldn't help drawing the similarity to Sen. John Ensign, who demanded that fellow Republican Sen. Larry Craig resign after he was charged with an illegal sex act in an airport men's room. After Ensign confessed recently to an extra-marital affair with a former staff member who incredibly was the wife of another former staff member, he did not resign. It seems not all sex acts are equally disapproved by Ensign. More likely it's a case of whose bull is being gored. He, too, should resign because who can ever trust a reprobate who profanes subordinates.
To this day Republicans still regurgitate the sorrowful Chappaquiddick incident whenever they want to besmirch Sen. Ted Kennedy for political reasons even though the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne, asleep in the back seat of the Kennedy car as it plunged into the tidal channel waters, occurred 40 years ago.
The Republicans who latch onto every Democratic official's scandal as unforgivable, never seem to have the same family value ardor when a member of their own party goes astray. To this day they proudly admire and give prominence to former Speaker Newt Gingrich, the hypocrite who took the high ground during the Clinton impeachment while dallying adulterously with a female member of his staff.
Not so with misbehaving Democrats other than Clinton. They have not been able to recover. Former senator and party presidential candidate John Edwards, and New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, had extra-marital relations and have disappeared from the political scene, for now anyway.
President Bush promised Americans a government of high moral values after the scandalous Clinton impeachment year of 1998-1999, but he took the country into a even worse scandal, a war that has plagued the country now for almost a decade and promises not to be solved for years to come. Who did more harm to the country -- a White House back room sex fling which had no effect on government programs or the death of some 4,500 American GIs and thousands more permanently injured in an unprovoked and unnecessary war?
Given the truculent GOP opposition to anything that President Obama proposes -- and their speed in criticizing the president for not being more bellicose on the Iran issue -- you would think there is little bipartisanship in Washington. Well that's not entirely true. It all depends on where you look. When it comes to sex scandals and other wrongdoings, there is plenty to go around on both sides of the aisle.
That's where Washington is truly bipartisan.