Political Animal


May 19, 2011 8:30 AM Pondering Republicans, double standards, and sex

By Steve Benen

The first line of Gail Collins’ latest NYT column reads, “What is it with Republicans lately?”

Of course, that question could lead in all kinds of interesting directions, since Republicans have been up to no good in more areas than one. In this case, however, Collins is largely interested in the GOP and sex.

What is it with Republicans lately? Is there something about being a leader of the family-values party that makes you want to go out and commit adultery?

They certainly don’t have a lock on the infidelity market, and heaven knows we all remember John Edwards. But, lately, the G.O.P. has shown a genius for putting a peculiar, newsworthy spin on illicit sex. A married congressman hunting for babes is bad. A married congressman hunting for babes by posting a half-naked photo of himself on the Internet is Republican.

A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child is awful. A married governor who fathers an illegitimate child by a staff member of the family home and then fails to mention it to his wife for more than 10 years is Republican.

A married senator who has an affair with an employee is a jerk. A married senator who has an affair with an employee who is the wife of his chief of staff, and whose adultery is the subject of ongoing discussion at his Congressional prayer group, is Republican.

We haven’t even gotten to Newt Gingrich yet!

And really, Collins’ column, if she had more space, could have gone on with many other recent examples. She highlights the three most recent Republican scandals — Chris Lee, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and John Ensign — but let’s also not forget David Vitter, Larry Craig, Mark Sanford, Jim Gibbons, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, and others.

To be sure, the Republican response — it’s a bipartisan issue — is not without merit. I’m sure many on the right can rattle off a related list of their own: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, etc.

But Collins’ larger point is a good one: not only do the Republican scandals seem worse in their scope and severity, but we’re talking about “the family-values party.” Indeed, except for Giuliani and maybe Schwarzenegger, all of the recent Republicans caught with their pants down have been sleazy and hypocritical.

It’s generally wise to avoid double standards, but what about when a party invites one? For decades, Republican candidates at every level have emphasized the GOP’s moral superiority on “family values.” If you want to protect the “sanctity of marriage,” the argument went, it’s incumbent on you to vote Republican. There’s a culture war underway, Americans have been told, and Democrats just aren’t as reliable on these issues as the GOP.

Republicans, in other words, have demanded the highest moral standards, while failing in almost comical ways to meet these standards themselves.

One can make a very compelling case that politicians’ private lives should be off-limits altogether, and officials’ personal/family problems are their business, not ours. But if a party goes out of its way to hold itself out as the arbiters of virtue, it should expect a more intense pushback when it’s caught falling short.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • martin on May 19, 2011 8:41 AM:

    What does she mean "lately"? Arnie's latest was from 10 years ago, Newt's history of sleaze goes back even farther. As the average memory span of an American pundit is about 6months, it seems the proper question is "What is it about Republicans historically?"

  • chi res on May 19, 2011 8:42 AM:

    There’s a culture war underway, Americans have been told

    Hey, war is hell. Sometimes you need a little R & R.

  • SteveT on May 19, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Republicans aren't just hypocritical about sex, that's merely the juiciest of the issues where they have a double standard.

    Just about any issue that Republicans raise -- "personal responsibility", obeying the rule of law, "transparency", lying under oath, voting integrity, "judicial activism" to name a few -- the Republicans believe that the standards that they demand that everyone else follow shouldn't apply to them.

    It would be interesting to see someone to study the reasons behind this their pathology.

  • SW on May 19, 2011 8:43 AM:

    Perhaps because the whole 'family values' thing was a cynical charade enacted for the rubes in fly-over country to get them to sign on to the 1%er's financial agenda?

  • pj in jesusland on May 19, 2011 8:53 AM:

    As Newt has explained, their intense patriotism makes them do it.

  • JMG on May 19, 2011 8:59 AM:

    The point of "morality" isn't to be moral. It's a reason to boss around people who aren't like you.

  • rea on May 19, 2011 8:59 AM:

    My husband and I want to extend our sincere apologies for ruining the institution of marriage for all these people. Ever since monogamy became, "so gay," these poor social conservatives have simply been unable to help themselves.

  • DAY on May 19, 2011 9:00 AM:

    It is this week's TIME cover story.
    -although, as one who has raised pigs (intelligent, pleasant creatures all), I find the comparison odious.

  • bob h on May 19, 2011 9:14 AM:

    It seems that Republicans tried in recent decades to claim superiority in three main areas: family values morality, national defense, and fiscal rectitude. All of these claims are now seen to be hollow.

  • jlt on May 19, 2011 9:15 AM:

    All the while, they are stripping Womens rights from them! This is NOT FAMILY VALUES but about paternalistic power of the impotent white republican conservative male!

    Like with newt, blonde and young is expensive for the old and fat--enter the Tiffany account!

  • dr2chase on May 19, 2011 9:18 AM:

    It's all part of their clever plan to distract us from "liberal" issues, like rising inequality, unemployment, crumbling infrastructure, and a total lack of a plan to deal with a future of more expensive fossil fuels and climate change.

    Really, they don't enjoy it at all, but the liberals made them do it.

  • SHARKSBREATH on May 19, 2011 9:26 AM:

    Republican values create child molesters.


    Republican aide, Alan David Berlin, was arrested on charges that he wanted to engage in sex acts with a 15 year old boy while dressed in a panda costume.

    Fox News producer Aaron Bruns pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 10 years for possessing child pornography.

    Republican activist and former presidential campaign chairman Jeffrey Claude Bartleson was arrested on charges of sexually molesting a 5-year old boy.

    Republican activist and former chairman of the Christian County Republicans Royce Fessenden pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation and one count of second-degree statutory sodomy.

    Click on the link to see more.

  • MR Bill on May 19, 2011 9:27 AM:

    I think the Republican actions in the realm of personal morality are exactly the same as they make in economic policy: claim pure intentions ('End the Deficit! End Welfare and Government intervention in the economy! Reward Work and productivity!") and commit whatever evil (running up massive unsustainable deficits, increase welfare for the wealthy, use the Government as a tool of the rich, screw the workers while productivity climbs) they find makes them feel good.

    "Beware of publick moralists: they speak as Angels, but live as mere men..."

  • j on May 19, 2011 9:31 AM:

    I know he is not a politician, but he sure is a republican - did I hear that Limbaugh had a thing about going to South America in search of little boys at one time.

  • Jeff In Ohio on May 19, 2011 9:31 AM:

    Steve, what is it about sin all week, seek forgiveness on Sundays you don't understand? Sinning is not a zero sum game - you can stick it where the sun don't shine as much as you want and with whomever you like, as long as you take a few minutes to seek forgiveness.

    Then start all over again.

    If the Democrats and Progressives were not Secular-Athesististic-Islamo-Facists bent on stripping god from the marketplace and schools and replacing him with Sharia Law, you'd could bang the neighbors dog on Saturday and by Monday, all would be forgiven.

    As it is, your going to hell.

  • cainmi on May 19, 2011 9:33 AM:

    All the talk about gay marriage is what's causing the problems for Republicans. They say if gays are allowed to marry, it will destroy the sanctity of marriage. They're just proving their case.

  • Han's Solo on May 19, 2011 9:36 AM:

    You just don't get it. The reason Republicans have such poor zipper control, as Newt pointed out, is that they love this country so much. Here is a little known "Republican Fact" for you: Viagra is made of concentrated patriotism. It's true! What you do is you wrap a toothless, inbred, wingnut dittohead in a US flag super tight while playing, simultaneously, the national anthem (sung by a white person) and Rush Limbaugh. As time goes on you tighten the flag around the hillbilly freak tighter and tighter, and blast the frothy mix of Limbaugh and the national anthem (sung by a white person) louder and louder. At the end of the process you unwrap the flag and BAM GOES THE DYNAMITE, where the hapless moron was there is now a handful of Viagra pills. It is a little like turning a chunk of coal into a diamond, only coal has more utility than wingnuts and, therefore, the finished product is worth more.

  • superking on May 19, 2011 9:39 AM:

    Are Democrats are somehow not being hypocritical when they cheat on their wives? I'm pretty convinced that anyone who cheats on their wife is a hypocrit, and I don't recall the plank in the Democratic platform that says it's ok to get some strange, and I wouldn't want to be associated with a party that took that position. The good news, of course, is that Democrats don't.

  • stevio on May 19, 2011 9:40 AM:

    "Indeed, except for Giuliani and maybe Schwarzenegger, all of the recent Republicans caught with their pants down have been sleazy and hypocritical."

    Really? Since when are these two dopes not portrayed as sleazy and hypocritical. Arnold has had a long and sordid history of groping anything within arms length and Rudy cell phoned his ex-wife to inform her of his wanting a divorce while in the presence of his mistress. Grab a dictionary and look up the word sleaze. You'll find recent photos of these two dorks shaking hands at a Ensign fund raiser. Nauseating...

  • bdop4 on May 19, 2011 9:51 AM:

    The republican creed: "Do as I say, not as I do."

  • Rob on May 19, 2011 9:52 AM:

    Also remember that no Republican has ever received the kind of political excommunication that John Edwards received.

  • Eeyore on May 19, 2011 10:12 AM:

    cainmi on May 19, 2011 9:33 AM:

    "All the talk about gay marriage is what's causing the problems for Republicans. They say if gays are allowed to marry, it will destroy the sanctity of marriage. They're just proving their case."

    Yesterday, husband and I were legally married in DC. After a happy 35 year same sex partnership we are officially married.

    After our honeymoon, we will check in with Gay Central to see which straight marriage we will be responsible for destroying. Anyone have any good suggestions?

  • MR Bill on May 19, 2011 10:19 AM:

    Anyone have any good suggestions?

    I open the nominations with Clarence and Ginni Thomas, as it seems to actually pose some threat to the Republic.
    Although the Greenspan/Mitchell union is, with certain notable exception, not unproblematic...

  • Neil B on May 19, 2011 10:20 AM:

    Not only that, Steve, but as many commenters etc. note: Republicans more often get away with it, or for longer, in many senses of the term. The way Spitzer was hustled out compared to similar Republican cases, ....

  • biggerbox on May 19, 2011 10:23 AM:

    Arnold didn't just lie to his wife, he lied to the voters of California. As Kevin Drum pointed out, charges of his chasing other woman emerged during the short run-up to the special election that made him Governator, and he blew them off as youthful exuberance that happened long ago. But now we know that at the time his secret child was toddling around, and his infidelity was a recent event.

    Sleazy AND hypocritical.

  • John Dillinger on May 19, 2011 10:26 AM:

    Exactly Rob. What price was Gingrigh made to pay? Nothing as far as i can tell. Same with Guliani. Their infidelity to their wives didn't do them in, it was their infidelity to the latest conservative craze that did. Arnold will still be welcomed with open arms at national fundraisers. Ensign will need to spend a couple of years in the wilderness, but given his family's money, expect to see him eventually be a player, at least in NV. And if his legal exposure evaporates, rest assured someone will give him a sweet lobbying gig.

  • latts on May 19, 2011 12:09 PM:

    Republicans don't promise to be good examples of 'traditional' values-- the privileged always play by a more lenient set of rules-- but strong enforcers, especially when the transgressors aren't privileged. What they offer is a hierarchical and punitive social order that, in their minds, improves the lower classes by deterring undesirable behavior and allowing some small, comforting perceived advantages to the rule-followers in the lower socioeconomic brackets.

    It's my soapbox, but I really think we need to quit trying to look at right-wing ideology in consequential terms and go a bit meta-- they're trying to apply a worldview, not workable policies. In social terms, it's basically neo-feudalism.

  • steverino on May 19, 2011 12:38 PM:

    ...when it's caught falling short.

    Or when it's caught with it's shorts falling.

  • JCtx on May 19, 2011 1:20 PM:

    I disagree that "the Republican response — it’s a bipartisan issue — is not without merit". Although there have been scandals on the Democratic side, it is the volume that makes this an issue. I believe that during the Bush years, there were about 20 some-odd political scandals. If this issue were truly "bipartisan", you'd imagine that about half would be Republican and half would be Democratic. But in truth, I think only two of those scandals were Democratic (Edwards and the Louisiana senator that caught with $95,000 in his office safe). The rest were Republicans. What it comes down to is with Democrats, scandal is the exception. With Republicans, it's the rule.

  • tamiasmin on May 19, 2011 2:59 PM:

    I'm afraid we just don't understand the phrase. When Republicans talk about "family values," what they mean is, "If you've got an itch for action, try to avoid your sister, your daughter, and your mother." It's all about observing boundaries. And very high-minded.