Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Political Sex Scandals: Why Do They Hurt the Republicans More Than Democrats?

Like most people, I saw the train wreck of a press conference by SC Gov.  Sanford (R) yesterday.  It got me thinking about political sex scandals in the U.S.  Human sexuality has been around for as long as humans, and adultery almost as long.  Politicians are probably not tempted to cheat on their spouses at any greater rate than other humans.  However, the trappings of political power may lead to pride and a sense of entitlement and that may lead politicians to ACT on the temptations of adultery more than others. It is odd; no matter how many get caught in these scandals, others follow who are convinced THEY will never be caught.

It is strange that female politicians seldom seem to get caught in sex scandals.  I can’t think of any in recent history.  This either means (a) that female politicians are morally stronger and resist the temptations to cheat far better than their male counterparts or (b) they are MUCH more discreet and better at not getting caught or (c) both.  Maybe this is another good reason to elect more women–fewer sex scandals. It’s worth a thought.

Now, sex scandals are equal opportunity.  There is no evidence that politicians of one political party cheat on their spouses any more than those of another.  But the pattern in the U.S. is different.  With Democrats (except for Bill Clinton), when caught they resign and that is usually the end of their respective political careers.  With Republicans, they seldom resign and sometimes are not even forced from office (e.g., Sen. David Vitter of LA was found in ’06 to be a frequent customer of the D.C. Madam–and  his love for prostitutes also involved [ugh] wearing diapers.  But Diaper Dave is not only still in office, but seems to stand a good chance of being reelected next year.).  Yet, the sex scandals of Republican politicians seem to hurt their party as a whole more than similar actions by Democratic colleagues. Why?

It seems to me that the difference is the hypocrisy factor.  The Democratic Party in the U.S. has not tried to set itself up as the “morality police.”  Democrats sometimes campaign as “strong family people,” but this is seldom the center of the campaign.  They don’t claim to be morally superior.  They don’t try  to claim that voting for them is the only way to save the American family.  Republicans do make such claims–usually by implication, but sometimes in almost those very words.  Further, Republican politicians loudly call for Democratic politicians to resign if they get caught in sex scandals–and claim that voting for them is a way to restore the moral fabric of the nation.

So, when Republican politicians (often, as in the case with Gov. Sanford, the very politicians who called for others to resign over adultery) get caught cheating, their hypocrisy shows up. And whether or not the politician, Vitter or Sanford or Ensign (R-NV), etc. survives, the Republican Party as a whole suffers.  If you set yourself up as the national morality police, your credibility erodes every time another of your group has to have the embarrassing “confessional press conference.”

June 25, 2009 Posted by | scandal, U.S. politics | 21 Comments