“What’s Worse: Adultery or Hypocrisy?”

What’s worse: Adultery or hypocrisy?

Campbell Brown of CNN raised this question Wednesday night on her show in reporting on the story that Republican Senator John Ensign had admitted to an affair with an Ensign campaign staffer who was married to an Ensign office staffer. (How did they manage those logistics?)

My vote is squarely on hypocrisy, a particular speciality of the Republican right.

As an article in the Washington Post Style section today points out,

our imaginations when it comes to
political scandals have gotten pretty wild. Mostly because, in recent
years, we have seen some seriously "Law & Order"-worthy stuff:
Sting operations in bathroom stalls (Larry Craig). Lewd IM exchanges
with underage pages (Mark Foley). Prostitution rings frequented by a
governor who spearheaded prosecution of prostitution rings (Eliot
Spitzer). Plus, John Edwards. Plus, Kwame Kilpatrick. Plus, David

The Ensign affair, according to Eric Dezenhall of the
Washington crisis management firm Dezenhall Resources:

is really vanilla.  The thing about
Edwards and Craig and Foley and Spitzer is that they had a radioactive
element. Not all crises are created equal.  [This one, at least,] is on
the grid. It’s not an exotic type of thing.

To be honest, I don’t care about Ensign’s relationship antics, whether they are vanilla or a new Ben and Jerry’s Nevada Yucca Mountain Nuclear Swirl.  People make mistakes, have complicated lives, have complicated sexual encounters..and these were consenting adults.  I am not condoning or condemning.  I would normally just consider these issues a matter of privacy and one to be taken up with his wife and family.

But for one thing: For Ensign, no one else’s relationships were private enough for him to offer the same consideration. No social issue was too complex not to reduce to a caricature for political gain.  No marginalized group too vulnerable not to pillory.

He was a Republican moralist.  He went after Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky debacle with full-force, and more-than-wagged his holier-than-thou finger at many other people who were caught out having affairs.

He is a far-righter’s fantasy Senator.  According to "On The Issues," Ensign had a 100 percent rating from the Christian Coalition on "pro-family issues," (whatever those are according to their definition), opposed anti-discrimination legislation to protect gay, lesbian and transgender persons, opposes gay marriage, is anti-choice and has consistently voted against funding for comprehensive sex education and for services and information that would reduce teen pregnancy.  Hewed to the far right line on virtually every single issue and vote.  Kinda scary.

What is more…he is a "Promise Keeper," who pledged to keep the 7 promises, including:

  • PROMISE 3: A Promise Keeper is committed to practicing spiritual, moral, ethical, and sexual purity.
  • PROMISE 4: A Promise Keeper is committed to building strong marriages and families through love, protection and biblical values.


So to repeat, I really wouldn’t care, but for the fact that Ensign and many of the guys like him seem to be locked in some political version of Ground Hog Day, with different lead actors.  Rise, fall, redemption; rise, fall, redemption.  Aspiring politician falls in line with the extreme right and toes the party line.  Gets elected Senator.  Moralizes and pontificates about gays, abortion, sex, marriage, welfare, "constitutional purity" and so on.  Starts to eye party leadership and the Presidency.  Decides he is above the rules he himself has set in stone, so breaks them and has an affair.  Then all hell breaks loose and for whatever reason he has to disclose it and do damage control.

Now, it appears that beyond the sexual infidelity, there may also be abuse of government funds.  The Washington Post also reports today that Ensign may have improperly paid his aide, Cynthia Hampton, and her husband.

Cynthia Hampton’s salary
doubled in 2008 during the time she had the affair with Ensign. Her
husband got an additional two weeks of pay in April 2008 (two months
before the affair ended) and their son was put on the payroll until the
affair ended in mid August 2008.

So the guy who railed against those "welfare queens" was doling it out to his lover and her husband.

And to add insult to injury, he now is on the "redemption circuit," whereby the careful manipulation of his image is intended to get him back in the Republican attack-dog position as quickly as possible.  

"He was able to control the story by running to it, not away from it,"
says Michael Robinson of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington.

And says the Post:

There was only the news conference, the
I’m-just-a-man admissions of his own weakness, the no questions, please.

He also went solo to avoid triggering the resentment of female voters:

His solo appearance (unlike the wives of other fallen pols, Darlene Ensign conspicuously chose not
to stand by her man, though her statement insists they’re reconciled)
also gets a nod of approval. "We counsel men not to have their wives
standing there," Smith says. When women do, viewers "see hurt, they see
pain . . . and it just makes him look that much more guilty."

And…says the Post, "He’s even dressed in proper apology attire."

He’s not wearing a
power suit," notes Scott Sobel of D.C. PR firm Media &
Communication Strategies. "He chose vulnerability. You don’t want to
walk out there with a suit and a red tie the way you might during an
official conference." It’s better to look like a private citizen:
humbled, faulty, apologetic.

"Choosing vulnerability," looking "humbled, faulty, apologetic….".

All about the image.  All about the show.

All about hypocrisy, which I am beginning to think is one of the greatest sins of all.

Is any of the redemption real?  Does it make him any more sympathetic to the real plight of real people with complex lives?

How long will it take before he’s back railing about family values, promiscuous youth, fetal rights, and other contrived social ills?

Let’s wait and see.

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  • http://www.nimlok.com/ invalid-0

    Adultery is worse in my opinion. There are instances in life when being a hypocrite is not as bad as it sounds. We tell our children to abstain from sex and alcohol while reality many adults participate in both activities. People are often hypocritical so they aren’t ostracized by the group/society.

  • invalid-0

    To a “Right Wing Authoritarian” conservative, this is not hypocrisy. (“Right Wing Authoritarian” is the term used by professor Altemeyer of the Univ. of Manitoba. More on Right-wing authoritarianism at Wikipedia.)

    RWAs are highly compartmentalized in their thinking, and thus do not see contradictions in their various positions. Example: A Right-to-Life person will pledge energy and resources to protect unborn babies, but will deny the government providing prenatal care, or postnatal, or toddler care, or subsidized daycare so a single mother can get off welfare and get hold down a job. They will also see the murder of a doctor who provides abortions as justifiable in order to save the life of an ‘unborn child’.

    I believe Senator Ensign saw no hypocrisy in his actions beyond “it’s only wrong if you get caught.”

  • invalid-0

    “Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practise; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.” Samuel Johnson

    This isn’t hypocrisy but instead being unable to live up to ones own ideals. Practicing the detested behavior oneself while at the same time giving speeches about how terrible other people are for doing the same thing, however, is in my opinion a third fault, much worse than either. Giving oneself special allowance because it’s understandable why a ‘good’ person like yourself might ‘be weak’ while publicly depising others is self-righteousness, and far more damaging to civility.

  • invalid-0

    Woah! As the child of parents who still cannot reconcile over a past infidelity, I think this is a really nasty article to post. To denigrate the real damage that an affair can cause to score political points is pretty low.

    And, as crowepps points out, you are walking a fine line here: if a Democratic Senator fails to live up to a campaign promise (which could, and should be construed as the sort of public announcement of his personal notion of the Democratic ideal) is he a hypocrite? If he winds up doing the opposite of what he promised?

    Ideals are, in part, appealing because they are just that: ideal. They are something to be striven after, fought for and struggled with. I agree that Ensign was talking out of both sides of his mouth at times, but occasionally engaging in hypocrisy, failing to live up to all of your own standards, and actually be a hypocrite are different things.

  • http://www.adwido.com invalid-0

    I don’t think one is better than the other. They are both labels that I wouldn’t want to be associated with. I think hypocrisy, when it comes into light, makes one look more like a fool. Because not only has he or she committed an immoral act, but they have spoken against the very act they committed.

  • jodi-jacobson

    I think you mean Elliot Spitzer. And we wrote about him here when it happened.


    RHRC didn’t exist when Bill Clinton was in office and Edwards was neither in the Senate nor a candidate when his affair was announced.


    Moreover, I was not writing here for any of these and this is my commentary.


    I think you missed the part where I wrote that I don’t care about the affairs as a public matter except when they entail hypocrisy–big time.  It would have been one thing, for example, if Ensign hadn’t gone after Clinton, again big time, for an affair, and in neither case do i think it is my business except again for the hypocrisy.


    So you are missing the point: Ensign, like so many others in the far right, made a career out of pontificating about morality, denying people needed services, information and methods of basic health care, and joined the Promise Keepers of all things….and nonetheless held himself well above (or below as might more accurately be said) the moral standards to which he held everyone else.


  • progo35

    Except for: Elliot Spitzer, who utilized an escort service while taking down people connected to that industry
    Bill Clinton, who was supposed to be a role model for the country but had sex with Monica Lewinsky anyway
    John Edwards, who ha an affair with his staffer while his wife had cancer and he was preaching about personal responsibility
    I guess the only ones who quality for hypocrite status under your rules are Republicans, huh?
    "Well behaved women seldom make history."-Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

  • http://NotionsCapital.com invalid-0

    Senator Ensign is a veterinarian by training. How can his extra-marital fence-jumping habit be broken?

    “Neuter and Spay, it’s the Only Way.”