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Lowering the bar

The Las Vegas Review-Journal published this editorial [1] after Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted to an extra marital affair. Here’s an interesting passage:

“But despite the predictable cries of “hypocrisy” from leftists who are only spared the label because so little is expected of them, it’s worth pointing out that this is a personal matter — not the kind of betrayal of official trust Democrats demonstrate every time they sacrifice the public welfare to satiate their paymasters, the trial lawyers or the public employee unions. “

Well, it goes without saying one does not charge another with hypocrisy unless one tries to pass themselves off as “morally superior” to the other fellow or party.  The modern GOP and its politicians have set themselves up for such charges and subsequently such downfalls if their politicians are exposed as being morally challenged. Politicians for both parties are caught in such scandals all the time. That Republicans suffer perhaps more so is their own fault given what they wish voters to perceive themselves as being as Patrick Ruffini points out: [2]

“This is a structural disadvantage that, on the margins, hurts Republican officeholders, forcing them into resignation or disgrace more easily than their equally adulterous Democratic counterparts.

Simply put, it is a strategic error to sanctify the idea that it’s worse when Republicans cheat. The hypocrisy charge exacts a double penalty on Republicans where none exists for Democrats — first, in the accusation of hypocrisy itself, and second, in the media whipping social conservatives into a frenzy in a bid to belatedly “enforce” their moral code — exactly the thing the secular media believes you shouldn’t do 364 days out of the year — to hound a Republican out of office.

This penalty exists because since 1980 various Republicans running for public office in many states have had to go through a morality “litmus test” because courting religious interest voters requires it. This could be anything from stands on issue, to campaign talk about “family values” to promoting said family (wives and children included)in a campaign to burnish one’s credentials. Mark Sanford, even though his policies and rhetoric focused more on economics and federalism, was forced to do such things (or at least he felt he had to) in order to pass such a litmus test with South Carolina’s Republican primary electorate.

If GOP does not wish to see up and coming party leaders like Sanford and Ensign continually be tossed onto the ashbin of history because we all are sinners and none of us are perfect, then forgoing such litmus tests in regards of judging candidates might well be in order. There were many reasons for rejecting Rudy Guliani last year besides all his extra marital affairs. GOP candidates need to stop pandering to a base that will vote for their candidates regardless of whether they are as pure as the Holy Mother (and a base that votes for them on more than just “religious” issues) and they need to (hint, hint Mitt Romney) stop saying the government must “create strong families” because that is not something government can do nor should do.  I could also wonder about the value of appearing in front of such symposiums like “Values Voters Forum,” that force such politicians to take such stands they themselves cannot reach, but I doubt GOP candidates will suddenly stop appearing before their religious supporters any more than Democrats will stop appearing in black churches. You go where the voters are for the same reason you hunt where the ducks are.


Still, there would be a value of going to such forums and saying to such voters that if you yourself or your family wishes to vote for a candidate based on a standard of morality you wish him or her to have that’s fine and if a politician and his family wishes to hold themselves to a high standard of morality of their own accord, that’s fine too.  But these must be personal decisions and not group or party platform positions. Otherwise religious beliefs and moral standards become nothing more than rhetoric a party or a politician uses to gain votes. And such rhetoric, as Mark Sanford and John Ensign are finding out, can be easily used against them when they are unable to live up to those standards. Hopefully, someday, politicians will not feel the need to say they support of “family values” (who isn’t?) in order to win elections.

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#1 Comment By Kevin J Jones On June 29, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

“since 1980 various Republicans running for public office in many states have had to go through a morality “litmus test” because courting religious interest voters requires it.”

Does this try to depict a traditionally American habit as a mere Republican one? Haven’t politician adulterers always fared badly in the US? Between Cleveland and Clinton, did any widely-accused adulterer ever win the presidency or his party’s nomination?

“they need to (hint, hint Mitt Romney) stop saying the government must “create strong families” because that is not something government can do nor should do.”

Of course it’s something the government can do or assist, depending on the state and federal levels. Strengthening divorce/marriage requirements, suppressing pornography, reworking tax policy, encouraging a father-friendly economy, and permitting (or encouraging) private discrimination against cohabitating couples and single people are all policy possibilities that have been in force in the past. (See Allan Carlson and profam.org for more)

Perhaps most of these options have been ruled out of bounds by SCOTUS or national legislation, but overturning such precedents may be necessary to halt familial decline.

The trouble with family values rhetoric is that it substitutes for sound family policy. If caddish pols had more policy proposals at hand besides the odd tax credit, primary voters could be more willing to overlook dubious character in exchange for practical results.

#2 Comment By andrew e On June 29, 2009 @ 4:35 pm

The editorial reads like a typical self-pitying talk-radio rant. Trial lawyers and public employee unions? Hey everyone, don’t look over here, look over there!
At least the readership of the R-J seem to have the wisdom and common sense the editorial staff lacks.

#3 Comment By Red Phillips On June 29, 2009 @ 7:39 pm

Sean, the reason people have to affirm “family values” (which is sort of code for all things overtly Christian) is because they are under attack in post-Christian America. There was a time when certain values and presumptions were taken for granted and that they were normative was viewed as a good thing. Even those who didn’t play by the rules weren’t saying the rules were bad or oppressive or old fashion or whatever. Kennedy played the field because he could, but no one thought he viewed traditional marriage as a bad thing or thought he would be fine with Bill and Steve tying the knot.

The loss of traditional values being understood and unchallenged has led people who aren’t necessarily personally morally committed to them to have to affirm them.

The idea of “family values” however inchoate, is more a reaction to liberal encroachment than it is an affirmative attempt to “impose” them.

#4 Comment By joypog On June 29, 2009 @ 7:54 pm

seems fair that if your strategy is to get extra votes due to “family values” then you lose votes if you’re shown to be a “sneaky philanderer”.

That said, there’s nothing stopping the people from pointing out hypocrisies on the democratic side. It just seems odd to be whining about possibly being punished for one’s own hypocrisy — its not as if the Democrats forced “family values” upon the Republican platform…

#5 Comment By Angela On June 30, 2009 @ 12:43 am


You can tell me why morals don’t matter, but I still won’t vote for a known cheat.

You can tell me why I shouldn’t care, but I do.

No point in being a Republican if they’re going to behave like Democrats.

#6 Comment By WRW On June 30, 2009 @ 9:24 am

While Sean’s piece focuses essentially on electoral strategy, I think the important, and understated part is this

“stop saying the government must “create strong families” because that is not something government can do nor should do”

The “Right” enlisting gov’t in “faith-based initiatives” is just warmed-over 19th Century Progressivism. It validates the State’s interference with the family (as to other well-intentioned things like child welfare laws and the social workers) that, when Leftists gain the reins, can and will be used to undermine families as they are traditionally, and properly understood; that is, excluding homosexuals, unmarried, etc.

And Dr. Phillips is correct that in decades past, there was a firmer compact in favor of traditional moral principles that the public did not need to worry about skeptics/secularists (Truman) and philanderers (Kennedy) supporting destructive and immoral policies like homosexual marriage and adoptive rights. And it’s true that compact no longer holds. But rather than refuting Sean’s point, it supports it.

Are “values voters” better off crippling themselves electorally by joining in the hypocritical feeding frenzy of immoral leftists towards the failing of politicians who, while personally inadequate, nonetheless would not brook the use of the state against their values? In other words, are we better off with an Obama, who is faithful to his wife but a radical toward the family, his paens to “fatherhood” notwithstanding; or with a JFK, who philandered with Marilyn Monroe and every other attractive woman he could get hold of, but wouldn’t contemplate such radicalism?

The use of the state to “advance morality” is a true failure. The best that can be hoped for in politicians is not engage in radical experimentation. But a philanderer can do that as well as a faithful man (and if the latter is an ideologue or in thrall to radical pressure groups like feminists and homosexuals, the philanderer can do it better.)

As for Kevin’s point, all his reference to Cleveland and Clinton shows is that the GOP has been demagogueing this point for decades.

#7 Comment By Red Phillips On June 30, 2009 @ 10:51 am

“The use of the state to “advance morality” is a true failure.”

WRW, the state can not advance morality, but there is clear Biblical support (both Old and New Testament) for the civil government to attempt to restrain vice. To the degree that the civil government has to do so, however, reflects a failure at a lower level – individual, family, church.

#8 Comment By Sean Scallon On June 30, 2009 @ 11:59 am

Civil government can restrict vice. A local township board can deny a liquor license to a strip joint. A town council can keep an adult bookstore from operating within city limits. A state can outlaw gambling. It cannot prevent vice, which leads to some governments to say “Heck with it. Lets just legalize it anyway, make a few bucks and let a person’s own concious dictate whether they partake in nefarious activities.”

All of the aforementioned acitivies should be local or state decisions to make in regards to how they see their communities. They have an impact on families. The Constitution, on the other hand, is not the Ten Commandments, ergo the Federal Government (and we have to be clear about which government we mean) has no business in the morality business. That’s not what it was set up to do.

Angela, you say you will not vote for a known cheat. Will you then vote for an unknown cheat? Unbeknowst to them South Carolinians in 2006 did vote for a cheat. And yet despite being a cheat some think Sanford isn’t doing a bad job. As I said, vote your morals if that’s what’s important to you. But to think that vice just rests one party or another when all are equally human is nothing more than talk show tripe.

#9 Comment By Barney Rebble On June 30, 2009 @ 11:56 pm

Sean Scallon says that republicans are “hypocritical”, because they proclaim to be “superior” in some sense, but actually are not. This is why it is okay to make fun of them.

California will take care of illegals and indigent, but reduce welfare payments to the poor, to finance that.

Homosexuals must be allowed to practice their lifestyle in public without inteference, this is why athiests must remove any sign of the christian faith from the public view.

Obama said no new taxes on the poor under $250k; we will finance green technology by driving up the price of travel and electricity.

N.O.W. supports professional women, and vigorously defends women’s right to be equal in the marketplace, except Alaskan Governors, who should stay home and take care of the kids

Huge amounts of money needed to be allocated for economic stimulus, but all of it was spent on political favors, so huge amounts more will need to be collected, to do the job we would have done with the two previous huge amounts, if we hadn’t needed to make political payoffs first, although some worry that this will ruin the US economy.

It is okay to pass laws to prevent army recruiters from making soldiers out of our kids, to carry guns on the border. Instead, we will create a civilian corps to patrol the border without guns, to protect us from violent drug cartels, but allow the good clean undocumenteds to pass without too much scrutiny.

We will reduce greenhouse gasses by driving the companies who create them, overseas to countries where they won’t regulate these industries.

Commenting on the election in Iran would be interfering, commenting on restoring the dictator of Honduras is just the right thing to do

If we care about polar bears, then the guy who has studied them for 30 years, gets an invitation not to attend our scientific meetings, because he says there are 50 times more now than 100 years ago, which does not fit our agenda, and ruins our “consensus”.

If you google “hypocrisy conservative”, you get 2.2 million hits

If you google “hypocrisy liberal”, you get 2.4 million hits

Let’s end with, “liberals are intellectual, and very superior thinkers”, they just aren’t very good with facts.

#10 Comment By Barney Rebble On July 1, 2009 @ 8:00 am

Got 20 minutes to waste, on a documentary on how to construct a “lying right-wing hipocrite”?


(Well-documents the hit job done on Glenn Beck, and how we were made to think he “lied” about Barbara Walters)