What constitutes a ‘disgrace’

WHAT CONSTITUTES A ‘DISGRACE’…. Yesterday, a Politico headline read, “Disgraced John Edwards back in the spotlight.” Jamison Foser responded with a short item that got me thinking.

Maybe someday, we’ll see a Politico headline like this about Newt Gingrich.

That would be nice. After all, Gingrich, while in Congress, was plagued by questions over ethics violations, carried on an extramarital affair with a younger aide while impeaching President Clinton, enjoyed Cheney-like approval ratings from the public, was forced from his leadership post by his own caucus, and soon after resigned from the House altogether. Is he a “disgrace”? Sounds like it.

I’m not necessarily bothered by the Politico‘s use of the word in relation to John Edwards. The former senator’s future in public life is certainly bleak. But Foser’s broader point — what constitutes a “disgrace”? — is worth considering.

As far as I can tell, doing something disgraceful isn’t enough. Republicans like Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and David Vitter, among many others, have seemingly disgraced themselves, but none are commonly awarded the term.

In contrast, Dems like Edwards and Rod Blagojevich are labeled a “disgrace” with minimal hesitation.

The rule, then, seems to be that politicians are a “disgrace” when their allies no longer want anything to do with them. If like-minded figures are willing to hang out with you, you’re in good shape. If not, expect the “d” word. Democrats won’t return Edwards’ calls,so he’s in trouble. Vitter is seeking re-election, presumably on a “pro-family” platform, so he’s fine.

With this in mind, the problem with Gingrich isn’t that he doesn’t deserve to be called a “disgrace,” it’s that Republicans still consider him credible. Perhaps, if the GOP had higher standards, we’d have more “disgraces.”

Support Nonprofit Journalism

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Washington Monthly was founded in 1969 to tell the stories of how government really works—and how to make it work better. Fifty years later, the need for incisive analysis and new, progressive policy ideas is clearer than ever. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.

Yes, I’ll make a donation

Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.