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Republicans Have Made Sexual Infidelity Acceptable

June 6th, 2010

Sounds strange, doesn’t it? Republicans are supposed to be the prigs, the “family values” crowd, the religious, morally-upstanding types. So how come you can now be a Republican, cheat on your wife, get caught in a scandal doing unacceptable and even illegal things, and still stay in office and run for re-election? It’s a little bit more than IOKIYAR.

You may think that Clinton was the one who made it OK to have an affair without resigning, but that’s not entirely accurate. Many presidents before Clinton were known to have committed adultery, it was simply considered out of bounds to talk about it. What made the Clinton affair, as well as the graphic terminology involved, so public was the fact that right-wingers deployed a relentless offensive to make it as public as humanly possible. Newt Gingrich, the party leader at the time, pushed incessantly to investigate, publicize, and attack the president over his affairs–all the time while Gingrich himself was having an extramarital affair. The central issue, however, is that Republicans who worked furiously to root out the scandals, throwing every accusation they could and investigating every lead they could come up with before finally striking gold with Monica Lewinsky–and then they rode that one to town, making as big a noise as they possibly could.

Now, there was a problem with that: this was a sitting president, and a popular one. Think of Bush 43 in office, who had real scandals–violating several constitutional amendments among other laws, for example–and yet Republicans, then and since, have fought tooth and nail against the idea of even investigations, much less actual prosecution. The presidency is not something you toss out lightly. Republicans were OK with cheapening the office and the act of impeachment; the public, not nearly as much. The Republicans knew that Clinton would fight this, and that the nation would be quite averse to seeing the office sullied by a resignation. Doing something wrong is, strangely but truly, the lesser sin–resigning is the frank admission of that wrong on the highest level, soiling the office far more than anything else, and is only a last resort against criminal prosecution. Even with Bush, who committed far more grievous crimes than lying about an affair (including his lying under oath in a criminal case at about the same time Clinton did so), the nation was averse to giving credence the commission of these crimes with any kind of official action.

As a result, we had the occupant of the highest office in the country have an affair and he did not resign–he even finished office with high approval ratings.

In the election following his successor, the Republican party ran with a candidate who had in his past worse affairs than Clinton; consequently divorced and also having been centrally implicated in the Savings & Loan scandal, he received the stamp of approval of his party. Similarly ignored were the even worse affairs of fellow candidate Rudy Giuliani, while fellow Republican and serial adulterer Newt Gingrich made sounds of running for president soon, and thrice-married Rush Limbaugh ascended to de facto leader of the conservative movement.

Now, once Democrats have been exposed doing something that Republicans believe is wrong and then got away with it, they see this as an open door to do the same in spades–and they do so with gusto.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, who voted to impeach Clinton for his “reprehensible” behavior, hiked the Appalachian Trail and acted aberrantly to say the least, and used state funds for his dalliances; not only has he stayed in office, there is even talk of his running for president in 2012. Nevada Senator John Ensign, who called for Clinton to resign and said he “had no credibility left,” not only had an affair, but paid off his mistress in a way that was potentially illegal; Ensign is still in office. Louisiana Senator David Vitter, who earlier replaced a congressman who had an affair, using it as fodder to call for Clinton to resign, not only had extramarital sex, but did so illegally, hiring prostitutes; he escaped arrest only due to the statute of limitations, and is now still in office. Idaho Senator Larry Craig, another Clinton critic, was arrested for soliciting gay sex in an airport bathroom stall, and did not resign, instead finishing out his term.

Making all this even worse is the fact that conservatives continue to run on “family values” and “higher moral ground” issues. They still hold that infidelity is a sin while committing these sins in the greatest number. Democratic politicians, Clinton in particular, are not squeaky clean in all of this, but they do have the redeeming quality of not preaching on the issue and not hypocritically focusing on such affairs by Republicans while committing those sins themselves. John Edwards stupidly committed adultery, but at least he was not at the same time running on a pro-marriage and family-values platform while attacking his opponents, like McCain and Giuliani, for their infidelities.

In the end, the greatest responsibility for making an extramarital affair allowable while staying in office lies with the right-wing crowd, and it is so primarily because they never actually cared about its morality, but instead found it to be a convenient political weapon. They used the issue as a form of cheap political attack, preached incessantly about it, were exposed as hypocrites, and now violate the principle commonly and openly, creating the model for all to follow, legitimizing it. Thus, they devalued its impact and made it an acceptable practice.

These, the same people who claim to be defending marriage by denying it to others.

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