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So Many Things Wrong

June 27th, 2009

Patrick Ruffini, a Republican, argues that Mark Sanford should not resign, and complains that Republicans are unfairly put upon:

At the core of the Sanford and Ensign episodes is the cloud of “hypocrisy” that hangs over any Republican who strays from the bonds of their marriage. (Quickly forgetting that all who commit adultery are hypocrites, having taken a solemn vow of marriage.) Because Democrats are perceived as more socially libertine, they get off easier.

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.

Some will argue that conservatives should enforce a higher standard upon themselves. In cases of corruption or illegality, I have agreed. The stench of systemic corruption can be grist for severe electoral losses, as it was in 2006, and from a party-strategic perspective must be purged immediately. But adultery is different — a human failing that strikes Democrats and Republicans equally, and one in which there is a certain presumption of privacy unless there is illegal behavior (Clinton, Spitzer) or it affects job performance (Sanford). Do Republicans want to purge their ranks based exclusively on a test of personal moral conduct? How exactly does this help solve the (inaccurate, IMO) perception of the Republican Party as intolerant and dominated by the religious right?

There are many things wrong with what this guy is claiming. Let’s go through the list.

The hypocrisy charge exacts a double penalty on Republicans where none exists for Democrats

What Ruffini glosses over is the key point in why Republicans pay a double penalty: they exalt themselves as the party or moral virtue, they claim they are the guardians of family values, and they conspicuously make one of the greatest issues in politics today the idea of the sanctity of the institution of marriage and how gay marriage threatens that sanctity. Mark Sanford himself was a strong opponent of gay marriage, and was even scheduled to be a speaker at the “Values Voters Summit” which would focus, among other things, on the sanctity of marriage. Not to mention that Sanford, like most other Republicans guilty of adultery, is on the record openly criticizing Bill Clinton and others for their adultery. Democrats in general do none of these things–and if one did and was caught in adultery, he or she would be just as–if not more–sharply condemned for the hypocrisy.

In short, the “double penalty” Ruffini complains about is amply justified and richly deserved.

Because Democrats are perceived as more socially libertine, they get off easier.

What, like Bill Clinton? John Edwards “got off” only because he was no longer in any position of responsibility when he was discovered–he was no longer a candidate nor an office-holder. But quite frankly, I don’t see any evidence of Democrats “getting off easier” (no pun intended, I am sure), and Ruffini conveniently provides none.

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.

Really? Like Vitter, who didn’t resign? Or Craig, who refused to resign? Ensign doesn’t seem likely to, just as Sanford likely won’t. The only Republican adulterer of note who’s resigned recently for his affair is Eliot Spitzer. (Oops. Spitzer is a Democrat. Seriously, that was not an intentional goof. It only just happens to make my point even sharper.) Fact is, Republicans usually don’t resign when they’re caught in adulterous affairs, even when the hypocrisy in their particular case is as striking as it is in Sanford’s. The claim by right-wingers that Democrats are not hurt or are even helped by adultery is specious and unsupported.

…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…

The obligatory attack on the secular liberal media. Again, no evidence or examples of exactly how the media (1) is secular, (2) pushes a moral code, (3) fails to live up to that code, or (4) believes people shouldn’t abide by that code. As you can see, Ruffini’s statement here is convoluted on inspection. It’s what happens when you have a long-standing criticism that is based on an unstructured, unevidenced, and ultimately false set of accusations.

But adultery is different — a human failing that strikes Democrats and Republicans equally…

Here’s the old False Equivalency charge. Initially used most by the media in attempts to be seen as “not liberal,” it has been picked up by conservatives trying to explain off all the Republican malfeasance: if Republicans are found guilty of something, claim that Democrats do it just as much, so it’s a problem with politics or people in general, and not a Republican issue. This was rife during the last election; McCain and Obama went equally negative, right? Or how about the old biased media canard–compare Fox News with Dan Rather and the National Guard story–the two are equal, right? The Bush administration guilty of torture? Hey, Nancy Pelosi is just as guilty, right? On and on and on.

But in this case, does it stand up? After all, people are people, right? Well, if so, then it should be supported by the facts. And in this case–not really. Look at senators who are in office or have recently held office. Who are the ones with a history of adultery? On the Republican side, there is Mark Sanford, John Ensign, David Vitter, John McCain, Larry Craig, Bob Dole, and Elizabeth Dole (they were in an adulterous affair before they got married). All adulterers. On the Democratic side of the aisle? John Edwards is the only one I can find.

Keep in mind also that two of the Republican front-runners in the last election–including the actual candidate–were not only adulterers, but serial adulterers, and Gingrich, who was rumored to want to run and is likely going to in 2012 is also an adulterer. The non-titular head of the Republican Party, Rush Limbaugh, is an adulterer. The fact is, adultery is conspicuously rife in conservative circles–as is divorce and remarriage. There is the general stereotype and assumption that Democrats are the philanderers, but the evidence says otherwise.

How exactly does this help solve the (inaccurate, IMO) perception of the Republican Party as intolerant and dominated by the religious right?

Inaccurate in your opinion? Your evidence, Mr. Ruffini? None? Gee whiz, really? I wonder why not.

The thing is, Republicans are usually the ones calling for such people to resign because of the marital infidelity. Democrats in general tend to forgive the adultery part altogether. At my office, which tends to be pretty liberal, the attitude was that there was no problem with the guy’s adultery, but leaving his post for five days like that was unforgivable.

If Sanford had not committed the hypocrisy–had he publicly forgiven others who had affairs, had he not made the sanctity of marriage a political issue–then there would be little if any criticism on the left about him specifically, save for those who did not know his views and/or spoke of conservative values in general. Had he not gone AWOL for five days and lied every which way about it in silly and stupid way, there would be no criticism on that, either.

If you have an affair, that’s a personal issue; it doesn’t speak well for your character, to be sure, but it doesn’t speak to your performance in your job. That tends to be the liberal view of the issue, which is why liberals are not tagged as hypocrites as much when caught in adultery. It is decidedly not the conservative view on the issue, which is why conservatives are seen as hypocrites when they have affairs.

Near the end of his article, Ruffini stops dancing around the phrase and gets to his central thesis, calling this a “double standard.” But this is not a double standard; a double standard is when you have two different sets of consequences for the same failing.

If I say that drinking is bad and you say it’s no big deal, and we’re both caught drinking, is it unfair to call me a hypocrite? Nope. If the shoe fits and all that.

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