18 May 2010

Conservative Hypocrite: Washington is to Blame

Less than a month after winning a tough primary battle for the right to run again on the Republican line, Rep. Mark Souder of Indiana has announced his resignation, confessing to an extramarital affair with a female staffer. Souder is a member of the Class of 1994, the radical Republicans who took Congress from the Democrats on the strength of the "Contract With America" and a small-government agenda. Souder in particular was one of the Religious Right, quoted as saying that there's no room for compromise when it comes to biblical principles. Naturally, he apologizes today to God as well as his family and his constituents, but he seems to stop short of taking that "personal responsibility" for which his kind take pride. In his statement, he blames his failings on the allegedly poisonous environment of Washington D.C., where he could not lead a "normal life" with his family. If there is a poison in the air, it took hold, old Republicans might realize, once Souder, like so many of his cohort, went back on his term-limits pledge of 1994. The affair may not be the only thing he should apologize for, and as far as his constituents are concerned, it might be the least thing.

Souder's constituents should really be infuriated by the fact that he fought for his political survival while presumably still carrying on this affair, wasting an untold amount of money spent by all the primary contestants. His narrow victory in that contest, however, points out a weakness in political "outsiders." Souder's opponents most likely accused him of being a "career politician" or a "Washington insider," and while those may have been fair hits it seems obvious now that "outsiders" were in no position to ferret out the information that has now brought down their antagonist. It makes one wonder. Maybe the insiders knew the score but had Souder hold on until an undesirable candidate, his strongest primary challenger, was out of the picture, on the assumption that it would be easier to exclude him when the time came to fill an expected vacancy. The story as it develops should have Hoosiers of all parties and persuasions wondering about their entire Republican leadership.

They should wonder about this as well: while Souder was, by his own Christian Right standards, a hypocrite, was that really a strong enough reason to disqualify himself from a race in which he had once again earned his place? Given the reported anti-incumbent mood of the nation, adultery is probably among the least of offenses for which constituents might condemn their representatives. Souder may have been overreacting to imminent exposure, but he might have considered whether voters should hold him to a higher standard than they do themselves. Adultery is a commonplace of our time, and I doubt whether the great majority of those who practice it feel that it compromises their integrity in other areas. Why should it be different for politicians? If revelations of adultery infuriate voters, it should be because of the secrecy, not the sin. It's the secrecy that leaves politicians vulnerable to blackmail or anything else that might compromise their integrity. Timely honesty can make a big difference. Back in 1884, when moral standards were presumably far more severe than they are today, Grover Cleveland was accused in a whispering campaign of having fathered an illegitimate child. He admitted it, and was elected President of the United States.

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