WHERE’S OUR ENSIGN FRENZY?…. Matt Yglesias highlights an important double standard: “sex scandals aren’t interesting when they involve Republicans.”
Interestingly John Ensign, like David Vitter but unlike Elliot Spitzer or Eric Massa, hasn’t yet been driven from public life.
I continue to find the trend fascinating. Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada is caught in a truly humiliating sex scandal — and remember, the media generally loves political sex scandals — involving a shameless hypocrite, who ran on a “family-values” platform, committing adultery with one of his own aides, who happens to be married to another aide. The scandal involves the immediate affair, plus alleged ethics violations, hush money, and official corruption.
And yet, no media frenzy. No reporters staked out in front of Ensign’s home. No op-eds speculating about the need for Ensign to resign in disgrace.
I know how tiresome it is to hear “imagine if a Democrat had done this,” but in this case, it doesn’t take much imagination. Spitzer got caught in a sex scandal, and he was forced to resign. Massa’s controversy appears to relate to sexual harassment, and he was forced to resign. John Edwards hasn’t served in public office in any capacity for six years, and yet every imaginable detail of his sex scandal continues to get an enormous amount of attention.
Then consider the folks on the other side of the aisle. Ensign’s sex scandal, which appears to include possible criminal misconduct, hasn’t interfered with him remaining a Republican senator in good standing. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), another right-wing, “family-values” hypocrite, got caught with a prostitute. Not only did he stay in office, but he’s seeking re-election — and polls show him winning. Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R-S.C.) sex scandal got plenty of coverage, but note that he’s still the governor. Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) found himself in a sex scandal, but like Vitter, he not only stayed in his job, but he’s running for another term, too. Former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was caught up in an especially humiliating controversy, but he didn’t resign before the end of his term, either.
This is, by most measures, backwards. For decades, Republican candidates at every level have emphasized the GOP’s moral superiority on “family values.” If you want to protect the “sanctity” of marriage, the argument went, it’s incumbent on you to vote Republican. There’s a culture war underway, Americans have been told, and Democrats just aren’t as reliable on these issues as the GOP.
Republicans, in other words, have demanded higher moral standards of all of us, while failing to meet these standards themselves — and failing to ostracize the guilty from their ranks.
It’s quite a racket, which the media encourages by playing along.