I'm perplexed. Should David Vitter and John Ensign resign from the Senate or just retire at the end of their respective terms (like Larry Craig)? Should the thrice-married Newt Gingrich really be running for president? I thought the GOP was the party of social conservatism. How come your side can't walk it like you talk it?
Hello again. Last week's column certainly initiated a robust debate and I appreciate the many thoughtful comments that were posted to the Web site. This week's question is, I'm sure, almost sure to do likewise.
If I may paraphrase the question, Rachel wants me to explain why conservatives who talk about the importance of traditional values often fail to live up to those values in their personal lives and why other conservatives are often willing to turn a blind eye to those indiscretions.
First of all, I'm not sure it is the case that most conservatives are willing to overlook personal indiscretions like infidelity when considering whom to vote for. Whether or not Newt Gingrich runs for president in 2012 -- and it is not at all clear that he is running -- he has to be prepared to explain to a certain portion of the GOP primary electorate why the fact that he is a twice-divorced, thrice-married man does not automatically eliminate him from consideration as a serious candidate. There are a number of people out there who, I am almost certain, would not vote for him under any circumstances because of it.
The United States remains a center-right country composed of people who believe in center-right values, like family, hard work and honesty. But also in forgiveness -- which is why the public apology from those in positions of authority who have crossed lines that seemingly could not be crossed often survive -- but only when those failings are a matter of personal behavior rather than public trust.
Rachel is right in that the examples she cites create the opportunity for liberals to scream "Gotcha" at the top of their lungs. Not that this advances the debate any -- but I bet it makes you feel good. I have to admit you have a point, though I am not at all certain I would categorize the senators she mentions as she does. Ensign and Vitter, in particular, are thought of as much more traditional Republicans than social conservatives. I don't think they should have to resign because they were unfaithful to their spouses; and it's up to the voters in their respective states whether or not they should be reelected. But if walking the talk is the standard we should set for our elected officials, let me ask a few questions of you in that same regard.
Should Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., resign his seat in the House of Representatives? After all, McDermott was one of those who opposed the Bush administration's program to listen in on the international phone conversations of suspected terrorists. But this is the same McDermott who, when presented with an illegally recorded conversation of Republican House members discussing the Gingrich ethics investigation, turned that tape over to the media. I think it is fair to say that, in this case, McDermott failed to walk the talk.
Should Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., have to resign his seat in the U.S. Senate because he accepted the Reagan and Bush tax cuts that he railed against? Or should Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., have to resign his seat because his acceptance of a shotgun as a gift during the 2004 presidential campaign violated several of the gun control measures he himself had co-sponsored? Or should Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., resign his seat because he, despite having voted for civil rights legislation, was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan?
The "Gotcha" formula can be easily applied to almost any issue you can name. I think it is true that the vast majority of those conservatives serving in elective office can be considered people who "walk the talk." But in an age where the politics of personal destruction remains an electoral tactic utilized to extremes by both liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, the ones who slip up are going to be the ones who get all the attention. And not undeservedly so.
I hope that helps.