Why David Vitter matters

When right-wing bedroom cops cheat on their spouses with prostitutes, it's hard to defend their privacy rights.

By Joan Walsh

Published July 16, 2007 11:45PM (EDT)

I'm a live-and-let-live kind of person, a divorced lapsed Catholic, a San Francisco liberal. Life is hard; marriage is harder. I try not to judge people who don't live up to their vows. Republicans included, as long as they're not hypocrites who preach about the "sanctity" of marriage while cheating on their spouses. With prostitutes. More than once. In diapers. OK, that's a cheap shot: Diapers aren't my thing, but to each his own. Maybe the diaper story isn't true.

Yes, Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter came out of seclusion today, and told the world that he's not going to resign, he's going to continue to do "important work" for his Louisiana constituents, on flood control, highway funding projects and stopping illegal immigration. He apologized again for being a client of D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey, but he played the defiant victim, insisting without detail that very well sourced accounts of patronizing prostitutes in New Orleans are not true, and blaming political enemies and the media for spreading "false stories."

Predictably, he refused to take questions; less predictably, he pushed his wife, Wendy Vitter, out to speak. Wendy Vitter, you'll recall, made fun of Hillary Clinton's plight during impeachment, telling the New Orleans Times-Picayune that if she had a cheating spouse, she'd be "a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary [Clinton]. If [he] does something like that, I'm walking away with one thing, and it's not alimony, trust me." (Maybe that's why Vitter disappeared for a week; he was seeing John Wayne Bobbitt's doctor?) But today we got the calm, forgiving, Christian wife -- "I'm proud to be Wendy Vitter," she declared -- who insisted she was mainly speaking as a mother and who is "sad for our children" because the media has been hounding the family since Vitter's admission a week ago, even following them to church.

What a performance. Such hypocrites. Praise the Lord, and come out swinging. Say you're sorry -- but blame your political enemies and the media for your suffering. As Glenn Greenwald points out, Vitter was a leading sponsor of the ban on same-sex marriage, insisting, "I don't believe there's any issue that's more important than this one," and he compared gay marriage to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. He's part of a generation of hateful, divisive right-wing leaders who've demonized gay people to build political support. And he's one of a growing number of hard-right, gay-demonizing guys who've been revealed to have their own sexual issues. He joins the Rev. Ted Haggard, the gay-bashing righty who patronized a male prostitute, in the pantheon of GOP leaders who can't live up to their own values.

Then there are all those GOP "family values" guys running for president, who insist that letting gays marry will threaten marriage, but who, when the going got tough, cheated on their wives and wound up divorced (both activities seriously threaten marriage, I've been told). Rudy Giuliani, John McCain, Fred Thompson, Newt Gingrich; it's a Mount Rushmore of adultery. To me, Rudy Giuliani is the worst of them, a Catholic who pulled strings to get his first marriage "annulled" -- that's divorce but without the sin, only available to well-connected, usually wealthy Catholics -- over his first wife's objections, to marry Donna Hanover, whom he later divorced.

Of course, many of these same people supported the impeachment of President Clinton over a consensual affair with a young adult. Impeachment-backing state Rep. David Vitter, by the way, wrote this in the Times-Picayune: "Some meaningful action must be taken against the president. If none is, his leadership will only further drain any sense of values left to our political culture." Vitter has yet to state what meaningful action should be taken against him for patronizing a prostitute.

I'll be on MSNBC's "Live With Dan Abrams" Monday night debating the Vitter mess with Tucker Carlson, who likewise defended impeachment. Should be fun.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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