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


  1. When a Republican is caught in a sex scandal it is practically impossible not to find a video of him condemning others, even of his own party, for the indiscretion of which he is guilty. Sandford is a great example of course. A campaign video from his last election touts his “family values.” It is sad, but also quite amusing, to see these guys, who have positioned themselves as so morally perfect at the expense of others, standing in front of cameras as they cry and ask for forgiveness.

    Comment by Ralph | June 25, 2009

  2. Michael I am a native South Carolinian and live in Columbia. Sanford should resign. That being said no one individual or political party had a death grip on morality. Lots of folks claim to be moral, but human frailty often finds them out !

    Comment by Paul | June 25, 2009

  3. Sanford should resign.

    Next topic: let’s say that there are no so-called “morality police” (public figures who speak on a certain set of values). Let’s say no one commented at all about President Clinton’s extracurricular activities, or Govs. McGreevy or Sanford or Spitzer, or Reps. Ensign or Foley; no politician commented on family values or the like — even in regard to legislation — for fear of one day not living up to the ideal. Suppose politicians did not speak on any of these things. (Churches could, but many consider that irrelevant to law or social order, or ‘shoving their theocracy down our throats’).

    Is this a better state of affairs?

    Comment by K Gray | June 25, 2009

  4. No, Paul, no one Party has a claim on morality. This hurts the GOP more because they (implicitly or explicitly) make the claim to be more moral. As Ralph said, Sanford’s very campaign ads made this claim.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 25, 2009

  5. I think one can speak to moral issues–and even condemn immoral behavior–without setting one’s self or one particular political party up as judge, jury, and exemplars.

    Isn’t it possible for public figures, political, religious, and other, to speak from a stance of humility and personal frailty, instead?

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 25, 2009

  6. […] By Mark O. Mr Westmoreland-White here offers an “explanation” for why the GOP reacts differently to scandal than the Democrats. One wonders if he knows any conservatives or republicans. He could, you know, […]

    Pingback by Stones Cry Out - If they keep silent… » Integrity and Office | June 25, 2009

  7. The Left is a “morality police” too, but for certain standards. It claims to be for the poor. It wants the government to help them out. It views paying taxes as patriotic. Yet, we know of Democratic politicians who don’t give much to charity, or who dodged paying their fair share of taxes.

    The Left claims to be for the environment, yet Al Gore flies around in his private jet, and Robert Kennedy, Jr. fights having a windmill (or something like that) set up near his house.

    I’m not saying that all liberals are hypocrites, but that the Left too does what you accuse the Republicans of doing: it claims to be morally superior, but not all of its celebrities live up to its standards.

    Comment by James Pate | June 26, 2009

  8. Mark O. — Michael knows and is related to many conservatives and republicans. He just doesn’t agree with any of our opinions.

    Comment by Dottie Hayworth | June 26, 2009

  9. That’s a fair criticism, James. Do you think these personal hypocrisies hurt Democrats as much as GOP hypocrisy and sex scandals hurt them?

    I actually think the progressive hypocrisies have more to do with GOVERNING than the GOP sex scandals–but our Puritan society means that the GOP scandals are going to keep hurting their Party more.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 26, 2009

  10. Mostly, I hear that bad stuff about the Democrats as red meat for the conservative base. It’s on Rush or Glenn Beck or Hannity, but not really in the mainstream press. And, although these guys have a large audience, it’s not exactly the majority of the electorate.

    Comment by James Pate | June 26, 2009

  11. I said something similar on Mark O.’s blog, Sis, but I wouldn’t say that I don’t agree with ANY opinions of my conservative/Republican family members. I’ll be happy to tell you which opinions of yours I agree with when you admit I was completely right in 2001 when I said that the Bush tax cuts would be disastrous and in 2002 when I said the case for invading Iraq was completely ficticious.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 26, 2009

  12. Plus, there are probably people on the Left who don’t care what kind of jet Al Gore flies around in, or if Democrats are completely faithful in paying their taxes. If they get the right policies enacted (e.g., environmental protection, not cutting aid to the poor), then that’s the important thing in their eyes.

    Comment by James Pate | June 26, 2009

  13. That’s probably true, but the integrity element is important for society.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 26, 2009

  14. I don’t buy the judge-jury-exemplars label. You can cite prominent examples on both sides of the political aisle.

    But ditto, integrity is important for society. And without some expectations, integrity can’t exist.

    Comment by K Gray | June 26, 2009

  15. Please, K. cite me 3 prominent examples of Democratic politicians claiming to be great exemplars of sexual morality and then acting as judge and jury of cheating Republicans. The examples on the other side would run 10 pages or more.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 26, 2009

  16. I don’t know of anyone claiming to be a great exemplar of sexual morality, do you? I think that conflates personal behavior with party platforms.

    Comment by KGray | June 27, 2009

  17. I think some of this talk about how Republicans are somehow the standard bearers of morality doesn’t necessarily come from the party itself but from outside forces, like Focus on the Family, Fox News, et al. Politicians do still feign humility to an extent.

    Concerning women, it’s possible that opportunities for men arise more often because there are more women who are attracted to men with power than men. Men are intimidated by women with power.

    Comment by Steven Kippel | June 29, 2009

  18. “Men are intimidated by women with power.” Maybe–wimps. I like powerful women. But this is probably true–and may still be an argument for electing more women in order to get fewer sex scandals.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | June 29, 2009

  19. […] Read this for for a blog post on why Republicans are hit harder by scandal than Democratic. […]

    Pingback by Politics, Christians, and Scandals « On the Bema in Ballston | July 20, 2009

  20. As a Christian, I am sickened by the new book, the Family, which exposes these scumbag christians who are merely demonically fueled freaks who pose as servants of righteousness…look, you may think Christians are bad people, because of this very example, but let me assure you, those of us who know Christ, who truly believe in Him and that Jesus is Lord, we are not perfect, but in no way will a true believer PRACTICE sin and get others to join in on it….that is a mark of demonic activity..and just so you all know..there is no black, white, asian, etc…in God’s eyes…it’s pretty simple in true christianity…there are only TWO types of people in the world: those who belong to God and those who are held captive to do the devil’s will…children of god and children of the devil…that’s it.

    Comment by Aspiemamyyau | January 3, 2010

  21. I AM a Christian.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 27, 2010

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