Uncomfortable topic though it is, my mind keeps coming back to the recent sad and disturbing confessions to extramarital affairs by Senator John Ensign (NV) and Governor Mark Sanford (SC), both Republicans. Much has been made of the serious damage to the Party these two rising stars have inflicted, but that is actually not what is most disconcerting to me, nor is it what I wish to discuss here. The party is already in shambles, but it is not because of these two men or others like them (i.e. former Idaho Senator Larry Craig, Louisiana Senator David Vitter)…and frankly, the state of the Republican party is not the most important issue here.
This is naturally an uncomfortable thing for Republicans, and conservatives in general, to deal with. Such is always the case when a high profile Republican makes a moral misstep. HYPOCRISY! is the cry, for the Republican Party is the party of “family values.” The Democrats don’t push moral issues and thus they largely get a pass on the hypocrisy charge when they are caught in such scandals, which is quite frequent for them as well (i.e. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, former North Carolina Senator John Edwards, former President Bill Clinton).
This brings out some important questions. Is it worse to stand for and promote morality and thus become a hypocrite when you can’t live up to a perfect standard, or is it worse to reject the notion of morality from the beginning so that you have no standards to break? Do situations like the one at hand make hypocrites just of the men who have actually committed the sin, or do they make hypocrites of all Republicans? Do the private lives and moral conduct of any political figures, Democrat or Republican, have a place in politics at all…or is it all irrelevant and inappropriate to discuss? It needs to be noted, first off, that moral indiscretion, sexual indecency and promiscuity, and scandal in general (as cited above), are not limited to one party. Unfortunately, these things exist in both major political parties and throughout society in general…regardless of ideology, religion, etc…to at least some degree.
Republicans tend to be people of faith; many Democrats are religious as well, but the difference lies in that Republicans, or at least the conservative ones, claim the necessity of a moral society and believe that as such morality should be included in the political landscape. Not all Democrats, but certainly most of the liberal ones, claim that moral issues are not relevant to politics and should not dictate laws or society. I believe that moral issues or “family values,” whatever you want to call it, are not only relevant, but an absolute necessity as a political issue. I also believe that the private lives that our elected officials lead is important in determining whether or not they are fit for office.
The Left has adopted the philosophy of moral relativism, which is basically the denial of absolute truth, of the existence of absolute authority (i.e God), and of absolute standards of morality (i.e right and wrong). According to moral relativism, “there is no ultimate standard of good or evil, so every judgment about right and wrong is purely a product of a person’s preferences and environment.” This is why the Left hates for conservatives to impose their opinions on morality on society as a whole. Conservatives, for the most part, claim that there is an ultimate authority…God…and that He would have us maintain a moral society to the best of our ability.
I am not going to delve into an in depth analysis of moral relativism, and its contrary, here; it is sufficient to say that I believe that, according to God’s law, adultery is wrong and lying is wrong. And anyone who agrees with me on this, and then commits adultery or lies, is a hypocrite. But are we not all hypocrites in one way or another? People of faith should be the first to admit that they are not perfect, nor should they expect others to be. If human beings had the potential for perfection on their own, then there would be no need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ…which is the crux of Christianity. The reliance on Christ, the need for a Savior, is based on the fact that all human beings will sin. So, since all of us will sin, is it better to reject moral standards, so that we do not become hypocrites when we inevitably fall short of such standards from time to time? No. Rather, we should teach accountability for individual behavior, accept personal responsibility for our own actions, face the consequences of our actions, then move on and try to do better…learning and growing from our mistakes. We should also strive to withhold judgment and deal with those who have made mistakes compassionately. Yet, withholding judgment and acting compassionately does not mean that we should let people who have sinned escape consequence free. We do need to judge whether or not a wrong has been done; we do not need to judge an individual’s heart whilst committing the sin.
It is easier for me to have sympathy for a person who acknowledges God, believes he should be leading a moral life, admits the seriousness of his sin after having digressed morally (i.e. adultery), and gracefully accepts the consequences of his actions, than for me to have sympathy for someone who rejects the notion of sin entirely and/or downplays the seriousness of his actions (Bill Clinton is a fabulous example of someone who looks on his own sexual promiscuity and adultery with little regard, seeing it only as a minor indiscretion and makes little effort to take personal responsibility for his actions). Such an attitude is frankly repulsive to me.
If Republicans condemn immoral behavior, and they hold their own to that high moral standard…even if they treat them with compassion in the process…I see no hypocrisy in the party as a whole. If Republicans attempt to downplay the seriousness of such sins when committed among their own, and try to shield them from the consequences of their actions, then hypocrisy within the party is certainly a valid charge. But to say that because there are Republicans who sin, the Republican Party as a whole should jettison its high moral standards is ridiculous indeed. The only way to avoid hypocrisy completely, theoretically at least, is to have no standards at all…then when individuals sin they cannot be said to be breaking the standards they have put in place. But it is better to have high standards, and also accept that hypocrisy is a natural part of life that must be dealt with in its own respect.
There are absolute rights and wrongs, society should strive to maintain a high level of moral decency, everyone will sin to some degree or another, and those who commit serious sins should be treated with both compassion and just consequence…the balance of which may vary from situation to situation.
So then the question begs: Does individual mortality matter when voting for politicians? Yes, it does, for both integrity and good judgment are essential qualities of good leaders. While I recognize that no one is perfect, some people…some politicians even…not only claim a higher standard, but actually live up to that higher standard. Such are the people we should be electing, on both sides of the aisle. Such are people of integrity. Of course there are good, smart, experienced men and women who have done a lot of good in and out of the political arena, who have also committed the sin of adultery. The sin itself, though certainly very serious on the spiritual scale, is not the biggest factor in my determining whether or not such individuals are suitable for office. It is the issue of wisdom and good judgment. In most of these situations the common questions are what was he thinking? and didn’t he think he would get caught? Please do not misunderstand me here; I am not suggesting that as long as someone does not get caught, that person has somehow exercised good judgment. Some temptations are stronger than others, and everyone’s situation is unique, but any time someone commits adultery I would question his or her judgment. I especially question the judgment, though, of those who hold public office and thus take greater risks when engaging in such behavior. Politicians are in the public eye…they attract attention…the media analyzes their every move, so it is very likely they will get caught. And when they do get caught, their families get dragged into the spotlight and have to deal with the public humiliation that comes with being betrayed in such a way. Why would a politician, then, exercise such poor judgment and put his family at such high risk? This is the core of the fit for office? issue for me.
It is first up to Ensign and Sanford if they will keep thier offices…they can choose to resign or to finish their terms…but if they choose not to resign it will become up to the voters of their respective states whether or not they will continue to entrust these men with high office, unless of course they simply choose not to seek re-election. In the meantime, my heart goes out to their families who certainly do not deserve the consequences they are now facing, due simply to the behavior of their unwise husbands and fathers. My heart also goes out to these two men, who most likely have a terrible debt of guilt to deal with and who I’m sure are not exactly enjoying life at the moment.