Here are thoughts from 2009, written during the media maelstrom that followed South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s tryst with an Argentine lover, not his wife.
My stand has only solidified in the years since:
It’s time to let adultery as a barometer of a candidate’s fitness for office go the way of tokin’ on a doobie in youth. Like trying marijuana, cheating is so widespread, so Republican and Democrat and male and female, that ranting about impropriety is often pointless.
Mine is a practical conclusion. Don’t take it as a dismissal of the damage that extramarital dalliances can cause families.
But a scale has evolved to weigh the tawdry antics of politicians, so common are these events in the news cycle. Allegations like those swirling around Missouri House Speaker John Diehl can be ranked and dissected. Are they primarily moral or ethical?
In Diehl’s case, we have a married man, now resigning and apologizing for a sexually charged relationship with a legislative intern after The Star disclosed a series of inappropriate text messages.
The behavior of Diehl is a concern for the public because there are ethical implications. The morality of it is between him, his wife and the impact on their three sons.
Aside from the creepy aspects of a nearly 50-year-old man hitting on a 19-year-old college freshman, there is the likelihood that he used his status as House speaker to woo her. (Think then-President Bill Clinton to a 22-year-old Monica Lewinsky.) It appears that Diehl’s now-admitted relationship might have been the reason that an intern program was canceled. So other young people were harmed, yanked out of Jefferson City and reassigned elsewhere — likely not the political experience they were planning on.
All of it makes Diehl open to judgment outside of however his wife sees the situation. She can verbally flog him publicly or take on the role of stoically standing by her man. It’s her call, not mine.
Apply the lessons of Clinton. I was never a fan. Multiple reasons. But partly because he could have harmed his then-young daughter, telling her by his actions that women are primarily conquests to be gathered up and cast aside. That’s a moral judgment.
But Hillary Clinton, she was a grown woman, able to make her bed and stand by as her husband chose to lie in it with others.
President Clinton challenged female voters to assess criteria that should matter more in the voting booth. Consider the question of whether a male politician who is a consummate cheater on his wife will also be less apt to support legislation that is aimed at so-called women’s issues.
Clinton seemed the moral equivalent of a wandering dog perpetually on the prowl, judged by his marital transgressions. And yet, his record on issues that primarily affected women was really quite good.
The incongruence seems to play out with many a politician caught dabbling outside their marriage. It probably has more to do with self-rationalization, how people compartmentalize to justify behavior. But it’s also why news of politicians cheating becomes so fraught with partisanship once voters step down from the moral soapbox.
The blatant hypocrite is the easiest politico to blast. Consider the person who ran on a platform of condemning gay marriage who then is outed as a closeted homosexual. More common is the candidate who portrays himself as being above moral reproach. Then, the titillating text messages, to someone other than his spouse, appear in a story.
Again, I’ll revert to 2009 thoughts: Politicians need to quit courting votes using the squeaky-clean image of their families. Just tell me what you will do in office, deliver it, and I’ll be less inclined to care who you lie down beside at night.