- Special Sections
- Public Notices
For a national political party that needs to regroup, the news just doesn’t get any better. Not when two possible 2012 presidential candidates have sidelined their careers with sex scandals.
Nevada Sen. John Ensign had just admitted and apologized for an affair he had when the bizarre news about South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford broke.
Sanford started out as a missing person, even lying to his staff about where he was. The story of hiking the Appalachian Trail turned out to be a cover for having been in Argentina with another woman.
What followed then was the usual litany of apologies, especially “to my wife,” as they always say. Very often in these cases the beleaguered wife stands alongside the “repentant” husband, offering her support, political and otherwise.
(To her credit, though, Mrs. Sanford seems to be having none of that. She threw her husband out, issued a very tough statement, basically telling him and the media to leave her alone while she deals with this. You go, lady.)
Ensign had been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate for 2012, and Sanford, as chair of the Republican Governor’s Association, had only recently seen his own star rise to that level. But they’re both finished at the national level now. Sanford quit as chair of the governor’s association, and may yet have to resign as governor.
It’s certainly true that such scandals aren’t the exclusive property of either party. Democrat John Edwards suffered a similar fate, but after his presidential prospects were beaten anyway by the success of Barack Obama.
The particular problem for Republicans in these matters is the way they pose as morally superior to the other party. The members of the party of morality simply aren’t supposed to have these failings. When they do, the gap between their words and their actions is more apparent than it might otherwise have been.
This was the case last year when Sarah Palin, the darling of the religious right for her prim stance on morality and abortion, had to suffer the political consequences of her teen daughter’s pre-marital sex and pregnancy.
It was ultimately okay with her supporters as long as the Palins could say Bristol had been “forgiven.” Now she’s turned into a crusader against teen sex, a practice right out of the “Do as I say, not as I do” school of philosophy.
The other aspect of the GOP’s self-proclaimed morality is the way it’s always focused on sex or sex-related matters. They never seem outraged by such immoral practices as unjustified war or various cruelties in the marketplace. The destruction of the planet’s environment is an immorality to many of us, but too many conservatives consider that a “myth.”
The scandals also come at a time when Republicans need to figure out a way to reconnect with the American people. Instead, many of them are too wedded to the very policies that produced George W. Bush and the electoral disasters he brought with him.
Ensign and Sanford may have learned very painful lessons. But many other Republicans have not. When you’re obsessed with personal and private behavior, and you set up standards that are almost impossible to meet, well, you shouldn’t be surprised when those standards can’t be met.
The party of morality has a lot more to learn about morality before it continues to lecture the rest of us.
* * * * *
Rick Howell, a Bedford native, is a member of the Roanoke City Democratic Committee, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.