Poor Mark Sanford. His soul mate is in Argentina, his life is in South Carolina, his career is in trouble, and his wife is incensed. All throughout the United States one question is being asked; “What was he thinking?”
Eleven years ago President Clinton found himself in the same, ahem, awkward position. In between there have been dozens of instances where representatives, senators, governors, and others have been forced into finding a way to “spin” their “indiscretions”. For the rest of the world, the cheaters just have to fess up and duck. I hope we all can agree that this issue is bipartisan; when it comes to fooling around, neither party is better or worse than the other.
The parties do try to make these events into political hay, and occasionally they are successful. The fact of Al Gore’s popular vote win in 2000 underscores that Monica Lewinsky and her dress might have been collaborators in Dick Cheney’s rise to the co-presidency. Mark Foley’s shenanigans were crucial in the landslide victory for the Democrats in the 2006 mid-term elections. These results show that most Americans care about the character of those they entrust with the keys to the democracy, but I wonder how much of our concern is just wishful thinking? Many popular presidents have turned out to have been scoundrels of one form or another, and some of our least favorite were (apparently) great guys.
The attention that politicians and their families are subject to, and the ridicule they receive when they put their name in the hat are at once intense and suspect. I will confess to looking on Governor Palin with derision and contempt, but have found myself questioning the notion that I could “hate” anyone that I hadn’t had the chance to have coffee with. It seems to be our nature to label those in the public eye in the harshest terms, and hold them accountable to standards that most of us are unable to reach. The Kinsey report found that 50% of men, and over 25% of women would have an instance of sexual impropriety in their lives. On the surface it would seems that we the voter have allowed ourselves very little room for maneuver.
The rational middle believes that we are responsible for the failings of our elected officials, and that we should be accountable to ourselves. We complain that politicians lie, but we will not elect one that tells the truth. Campaigns are won by the candidate who tells the most convincing exaggerations of a possible truth. Freshman members of the House go to Washington and do what their whips tell them to do. Aaron Schock, the engaging first term Conservative who represents Peoria and surrounding areas, is as accomplished as they come. He was given three committee assignments and is, unusually, a deputy whip to Eric Cantor. The fact remains that he will vote as all freshman reps will; the way he is told to. It is simply the only way that one will be supported by the party (either party) the next go around. This fact is common knowledge to any that payed attention in U.S. Government class, and yet we will not elect someone who makes that point in their campaign. Representatives tell their perspective constituents that they will go to Washington and fight for them; a candidate who would stand and say; “Here are my principals, but I will not be able to exercise them until you have elected me at least twice.” will not go very far.
Members of the House represent 100’s of thousands of people, senators millions, and the President over 300 million. All of those folks have differing viewpoints across a range of issues, and the majority are willing to exercise their right to be angry when the politician in question does not embody their (emphasis on the individual) view completely. On top of these political considerations, these elected officials must deal with a society that believes that they have a right to know exactly what is going on in the lives of their politicians and their families. Can you imagine that level of scrutiny applied to your life and family?
These people who we, sometimes derisively, call politicians, believed at some point in the importance of the participatory democracy. Most of them, be they Republican, Democrat, or Independent are in this because they care about their country. A few bad apples can’t spoil the bunch if we don’t let them. The “Sanford Affair” is not a headline, it is a painful family matter. It is no more correct that we dwell on that, than it was proper to impeach a President for his version of the act. I am not writing this to put my long held belief on paper, but rather to turn over a new leaf on this day of celebration for our country.
I am still no fan of Governor Palin, and I don’t care for her politics; but if she is ever in town I will offer to buy her a cup of coffee. I will talk to her about the weather and the crops. I will ask her of her family, and share pictures of mine. I will look forward to a sharing of disagreements in an agreeable manner; and I will treat her like a human being.
The rational middle wishes you all a safe and happy Fourth of July!