Thursday, June 25, 2009

This Week's Family Values Hypocrite Scandal ...

is not as bad as last week's.

Mark Sanford's adultery is as awful as John Ensign's. And it does bring the pro-marriage movement that I embrace into disrepute.

But Mark Sanford did not engage in the same kind of criticism of other people's sexual morals as Ensign did. Thus, the hypocrisy is not as great.


Cameron Mott said...

I think he took it to another level regardless of hypocrisy; what kind of man cheats on his wife and kids on Father's Day for jiminy crickets?

Anonymous said...

It's an interesting argument that you are making here (referring to your treatment of this topic, not to this post in particular). If someone has publicly taken positions on an issue, and then acts in ways contradictory to those public positions, then that person is more blameworthy than someone who has taken no such positions or whose actions have been consistent with the positions taken. I assume that it only applies to public figures (elected officials, high-ranking political appointees, et al.), and not to other situations like mitigating factors in sentencing (e.g. well, she has always been in favor of the legalization of marijuana so the courts shouldn't be too hard on her for possession or he never really expressed an opinion on robbery so the courts should take his agnosticism into account).

I think this kind of argument can only be taken so far, and, in the end, elected officials are judged on a whole range of issues and according to a whole range of factors during every electoral cycle. However, they are judged by an electorate that doesn’t consist of the entire population of the country (with the exception of the president). We can go back to our favorite example. According to your argument, Barney Frank is an openly homosexual man who not only doesn’t condemn odd sexual arrangements but celebrates polymorphous perversity. Thus, when Frank’s boy-toy was caught running a brothel in his spare room, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Indeed, Frank’s constituency sends him back to Congress every election knowing exactly the kind of fellow he is and they elect him, in part, because of his eccentric proclivities. In Frank’s case, his moralizing is done against hard-working taxpayers, so, if he ever supports any legislation which treats the American citizen as a citizen and not as a member of either a victimized class or a victimizing class, then we who live outside of his constituency would be justified in judging him harshly (and, I would imagine, his constituency would join us).

In the current case, according to initial reports, Sanford has rarely said anything about these issues, though he was critical of Mr. Clinton back in the day. So, does that mean that we, the general public, should sit this one out and leave things to the good people of South Carolina, who are less tolerant of sexual peccadilloes than their brethren to the north in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. What about a retrospective explanation concerning someone near and dear to your DLC heart? The moral enormity of Clinton's behavior dwarfs any of these current scandals. A sitting president who was quite self-righteous about his own moral integrity and extraordinarily arrogant about the unique quality of his marriage was being serviced by barely legal interns (among a score of other women of all shapes, sizes, classes, ages, etc.). Was impeachment warranted on purely moral grounds?

Frankly, I don’t care much for the moralizing of any of them. It matters not whether such moralizing takes the form of lisping lectures on corporate responsibility from a person (Mr. Frank) who knows as much about the world of finance as I do about the mating dance of the black-footed albatross, homilies on the sanctity of marriage from the servants of Priapus (Ensign, Gingrich, et al.), or sermons about racial harmony, hope, change, blah, blah, blah from our new nanny-in-chief. But, of course, I’m skeptical about politicians in general anyway. Politics is the realm of vulgarization and it takes especially arrogant and unlikeable people to enter it. For the most part, politicians, especially those who are hoist on their own petard, get what they deserve, but some seem to get it more often.

Gruntled said...

I think Sanford's moral failing is egregious, and is made worse by running off to his mistress on Father's Day.

When I vote for a candidate, his or her moral failings and virtues are a consideration. Since every candidate has moral failings, this can't be a dealbreaker.

Hypocrisy, though, is a worse failing in an elected official because it is a kind of lying. We elect people on the basis of what they promise to do an support in office. If they lie about that, that is a reason for them to resign from elected office. Judging the substance of their moral failing is a different issue.

I think Bill Clinton's moral failing with the intern was horrible. I said at the time that if he were a gentleman, he would resign - but, of course, if he were a gentleman, he wouldn't have dallied with an intern in the first place. I am glad that I did not have to decide about voting for him again.

I do not think that the Lewinski scandal was grounds for impeachment, though. And the moralists who did impeach him had their own moral failings exposed to public view, which were much worse than Clinton's. I am thinking specifically of Henry Hyde, Bob Barr, and the still-with-us Newt Gingrich.

Anonymous said...

I found Jenny Sanford's statement quite uplifting: committed to marriage, and to forgiveness, but not to being taken for a fool. At first, I was puzzled by one sentence, in which she said Mark has "earned" a chance to rebuild his marriage.

Some reports quote Mark as saying that he spent the days in Argentina "crying all the time. It may have been a break-up visit ... although a wise way to do that would not take so many days.

While Mark makes the headlines, the more remarkable event is Jenny's even-handed response to it.

Gruntled said...

Mrs. Sanford's response was so calm and evenhanded that we wondered if she was speaking the language of a recognizable school of therapy that deals with adultery. She spoke of what she needed to do for her own dignity - this sounds like something one would need to hear someone else say first. I agree that she is handling the crisis - at least what we can see - very well.

pat said...

You are a breath of fresh air in this debate. You sound more centrist than the really talented host of this blog.

TallCoolOne said...

Pat makes an interesting point, even, perhaps especially, if it isn't accurate.

Gruntled: time for a re-visiting of what "centrism" means?

(BTW: in American terms, you can best be described in no way other way than "centrist". But there is a much wider world than just America. After all, in European terms, Obama and H. Clinton are, based on their Senate voting records, best described as "moderate conservatives.")

pat said...

I think most who call themselves centrist are somewhat liberal, but for whatever reason eschew that label.The left it seems prefers to be called centrist or progressive which leads to less clarity.

Gruntled said...

My response to this issue has more to do with being an institutionally oriented sociologist than with being a centrist. I think the ethics of being a public official raise a different set of questions from the morals of being a citizen.

The Clinton/Lewinsky dalliance was a moral failure for both of them, whether he was president or not. The ethical question was whether he lied in office or used his power to cover up his moral failing.

Hypocrisy is a moral problem in anyone. It is an ethical problem for elected officials because the lie involved helped get them elected.

I suppose my centrist approach to the ethics of hypocrisy is that I would apply this standard equally to elected officials of both parties.