This is a letter-perfect example of why it matters when GOP politicians are caught with their pants in the cookie jar:
I don’t have any particular animus against Mark Sanford as a person. I think he behaved rather shamefully with regard to the stimulus money question; much of his state contains some of the poorest populations in the country (though certainly not all), and for him to refuse money which would directly and immediately help many of those people out of a desire to build a profile for a Presidential run in three years strikes me as borderline malpractice in the job of Governor. But I’m aware that there are people – including Sanford himself – who would argue that it was done out of principle, not political expediency, that he genuinely believes his state will be worse off if they take billions of dollars in free money. So of course it’s a debatable question.
However, things get a little more tricky for the Governor after the Argentinian affair, so to speak. Why? Because of exactly what you see on display in that ad. Sure, politicians on the campaign trail (when they’re not busy “going negative” on their opponents) are prone to speak in bromides about their own history, career, life and positions. Positive political ads about oneself are virtually always empty cliches. But for many years now, the GOP has consciously, at all levels, party-wide, tried to define itself as the party of moral values and moral rectitude. They even coined the term “family values” after Dan Quayle used that phrase to describe why the 1992 LA riots broke out after the Rodney King verdict.
But – and here’s where it dovetails with Sanford’s 2002 ad, above, contrasted with his recent behavior – GOP strategy around “family values” hasn’t been limited to hoary chestnuts about their own wonderfulness. It’s been a two-pronged strategy which has often, usually even, gotten far more mileage out of defining the other party – Democrats – either explicitly or (more commonly) implicitly, as the party of NOT-family-values. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s not, but you can see it in the pushback against LGBT rights, and in various other aspects of political discourse in America. And it’s served the GOP well. There is a very strong case to be made that had the GOP not worked with local groups to put anti-gay initiatives on the ballot in several critical swing states in 2004, George Bush would not have been re-elected. But despite the Iraq war, the still-shaky economy, the lack of having captured any of the key leaders of Al Qaeda at that time, those initiatives, and that “family values” demagoguery may very well be what put George Bush over the top and into another ruinous term.
When Bill Clinton was caught lying about having had sex with Monica Lewinsky, I was – as polls show most of the country was – sort of nonplussed about it. Very few people thought it was a good thing, but the majority of non-political-insiders thought it was probably a matter that was primarily between President Clinton and his wife and daughter (and a few others who were personally close to the situation). But the GOP went out of its way to say that it was not the sex, but the lying, that was unforgivable. And to some extent, they’re correct – a President who will lie under oath about a sensitive personal matter such as that is a President who would potentially be blackmailable, depending upon circumstances. And it does indeed speak to his overall character.
In the wake of the Sanford and (just prior to that) the Ensign affair-disclosures, I’ve heard more than a few conservative pundits state as if it were natural fact two things which I think are both complete nonsense, given recent history. They are:
- Democrats are more “licentious” then Republicans, and therefore not only engage in more of these sex scandals, but also don’t hold their own to account when it happens, and
- The media is harder on Republicans who do it.
Nonsense to both, I say again! LOL. I’m not even interested in a p*ssing contest about which party is inherently “more licentious,” because a) I don’t see how such a thing could even be measured accurately and b) I believe that no one party owns a patent on good – or bad – behavior. Even if we could measure such a thing effectively, I suspect we’d find things about equal, after all was said and done. But the part about Democrats not holding their own accountable? I’m not sure what guys like Mort Kondracke (above link) are talking about, but if we look at only the recent history, we see (on the Democratic side) Jim McGreevy (the New Hampshire Governor who had a gay affair) resign his seat almost immediately. We see Eliot Spitzer gone within days. And, if we go back to what Republicans consider the holy grail of sexual sleaze, the Clinton affair, we see a President who was actually impeached, and the news of whose affair crippled his Presidency for months as it was the single largest news story for almost a year in every major news outlet in America.
Yet in contrast, we have Mark Sanford – no kidding – literally comparing his situation to King David’s affair with Bathsheba, and using that as a reason he does not intend to resign from office, despite not only having cheated on his marriage vows, but also having left the state both literally and figuratively without a chief executive, and also having used taxpayer funds to finance at least some of his tryst-trips. Prior to that, we have John Ensign of Nevada going public with a similarly self-flagellating mea culpa…but not giving up his own seat (though he did give up some of his leadership positions), even though Ensign’s affair included doubling his mistress’ salary on his campaign staff, and hiring her son at the NRSC for unspecified research responsibilities as a consultant. And even though Ensign was one of the prime pitchfork-carriers during the Lewinsky trials, and led the charge against Larry Craig as well. David Vitter, who actually broke the LAW by patronizing at least one prostitution service (who knows how many times, and who knows how many OTHER services we DON’T know about), gave a similarly Biblical-reference-filled apology…and refused to resign. And Larry Craig, he of the “wide stance” in the Minnesota airport bathroom, decided he’d rather finish out his term and retire on his own terms, even after having said he would resign. I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to even draw any equivalencies here, let alone make a serious case that it is Democrats – and not Republicans – who are less likely to either hold themselves responsible by resigning, or hold “their own” responsible by censuring or expelling them.
And the second point? That the media gives Democrats who do this a “bye,” while hypocritically excoriating Republicans? No. One has only to go back to the Lewinsky years to see how silly such a notion is. Yes, he was the President (as opposed to a Senator or Congressman), but let’s be serious here. The only reason it may even seem sometimes as if this is so is because of what I’ve been describing here: the fact that regardless of which “side” does it more frequently or egregiously, the reality of the situation is that there is only ONE side of the two (the GOP) which has literally built a brand – and attained significant electoral advantages and success – based upon hyping their own personal moral fiber and even more so by going Full Metal Church-Lady on the “licentious” opposition…regardless of the actual facts. That’s why it matters that guys like Mark Sanford put out campaign commercials like the one I showed in this post – because it’s guys like Sanford, and the Mighty Wurlitzer of conservative spin that has his back (and the back of every other “right-thinking” conservative politician) who continue to assert, despite the evidence, that they’re moral pillars who have good solid values, as opposed to those foul, free-love advocating Democrats…and that when they – the conservatives DO fail (as all sinners must, they insist piously) – they immediately do the right thing.