The family values party

THE FAMILY VALUES PARTY…. Josh Marshall raises an observation today that I’ve pondered for quite a while.

For reasons that have always struck me as paradoxical, one place where Republicans totally excel Democrats is in their ability to survive sex scandals. Admittedly, Bill Clinton managed to get that ball pretty far down the field for the Democrats in the 1990s. No doubt.

But since then you’ve got Larry Craig, David Vitter, John Ensign, Nevada Gov. Jim Gibbons — who had so many affairs that he eventually decided to just get divorced and go legit. In fact, in Gibbons’ case, even the fairly credible allegations that he attempted to rape a woman in a parking garage in 2006 hasn’t seemed to seriously break his stride.

I mean, compared to this, Eliot Spitzer managed a hang time of something like 24 hours before he had to resign as Governor of New York, though he seems to be making a decent stab at a comeback.

If anything, Josh may be understating the case. Indeed, he’s leaving out a whole bunch of conservative, “family values” Republicans who’ve been caught up in humiliating sex scandals, but who managed to stay in office, remain prominent GOP voices in good standing, or both. In addition to Craig, Vitter, Ensign, and Gibbons — two of whom are even seeking re-election this year — let’s also not forget South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, among others. (If we go back a little further, and expand the scope, names like Vito Fossella, Tim Hutchinson, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, and Bob Livingston also come to mind.)

With Democrats, not only have there been far fewer officials caught up in these scandals, but the reaction has been one of no-tolerance for the transgressors. Spitzer was out in the blink of an eye, and Jim McGreevey was gone just as fast. For that matter, note that no one in Democratic politics will return John Edwards’ or Eric Massa’s phone calls.

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.