Please check below for a rebuttal from the reader whose e-mail inspired this post.
When a reader e-mailed me this morning, claiming, “sex scandals in the US seems lopsided toward the Republican side of things,” I wrote back saying that, in my impression, there were more Democratic than Republican ones. I based my comment not on any scientific survey, but on my own recollection, having followed the news pretty regularly for the past twenty-five years.
I wondered if my friend’s impression were based not on his bias (he tends to vote Democratic) but on that of the media, given that they seem to delight more in Republican scandals than Democratic ones, not merely because of the various reporters’ left-of-center leanings, but also because of the hypocrisy angle. They want to show that while Republicans may talk family values, they can’t walk the walk.
They use this supposed hypocrisy so as to more easily dismiss conservative arguments.
Numerous conservative bloggers, led by Glenn Reynolds (e.g., here), have observed how frequently MSM outlets make sure to reference a politician’s affiliation if he’s a Republican caught in a sex scandal, but somehow that doesn’t seem necessary to point out when it’s a Democrat.
Perhaps, that accounts for my friend’s sense that there are more GOP scandals.
Not only that. Republican sexual scandals fit into the MSM theory of sex, inspired by Freud and propagated by pop psychology and pop culture, that only sexually repressed people will seek out sex is secretive and seedy surroundings. Hence, the appeal of the Larry Craig story. A gay man denies his sexuality, thus forces himself to seek trysts in public restrooms.
Yet, if sexual repression were the reason people sought out such secretive sex, what explains former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s shenanigans? Or Carl McGee’s? McGee, an openly gay man and aide to Massachusetts’s Democratic governor, who had married his partner, was arrested for having sex with a teenager in a public steamroom. (Note how the article on McGee doesn’t indicate his party affiliation.)
The national media didn’t pick up on this story because it didn’t fit into their narrative of gay sex scandals.
Look, I don’t know if there have been more Republican or Democratic sex scandals. My sense is that there are probably just as many on each side. Members of the oppositing party do not have a monopoly on human frailty. As a Republican, I recall more readily the Democratic scandals, while my friend, a Democrat, recalls more readily the Republican ones.
Individuals of both parties, like all human beings, have sex drives. That drive is a powerful aspect of our character, one that does not succumb easily to rational control, even to moral suasion. We can make the most noble vows, but when a fetching individual comes along and attracts our attention, shows an interest in us, that, in certain circumstances, could upset everything.
The quality of our character is determined by how well we respond to such circumstances. Nearly every human beings experience moments of weakness. But, the best of us honor their marital vows and respect social mores about sexual conduct in public. And the worst of us find themselves dispersed across the political spectrum, in my party and in that of my friend. It’s too bad the media seems more focused on he scandals in mine.
ADDENDUM: The friend whose e-mail inspired the post sent me another e-mail as a “rebuttal” to this post. In fairness to him who so graciously allowed me to quote his words, I include his response unedited and in its entirety:
As a follow-up, Dan offered me the opportunity to weigh in in rebuttal of his posting for using my comment as the basis for his posting.
I agree with Dan’s final evaluation that there are probably as many sex scandals on each side of the aisle. Doing a simple survey you can find many from the past few decades from Congress alone. And then from there easy to find even more about state government officials and political activists. Neither Democrat or Republican is immune from personal private inclinations that develop into impropriety and illegal sexual activity.
But to me what should and usually does highlight the narrative of these sex scandals are the hypocrisy of the individuals involved. The irony of Mark Foley, a leader on the protection of children from sexual predators, is found to have had explicit and inappropriate communication with underaged House pages. Senator Larry Craig, who actively fought against gay rights legislation, is found guilty of soliciting gay sex in a men’s bathroom. Senator David Vitters, a pro-family, staunchly pro-life and pro-Christian advocate, seems a long-time client of more than one escort service–this at the same time he was mourning the resignation of his Republican predecessor, Bob Livingston, due to a sex scandal and actively calling for Democrat Bill Clinton to resign as President due to his adulterous affair with Monica Lewinsky.
And the media has generally been consistent in highlighting this kind of hypocrisy. When Governor Spitzer was found actively engaging escort services while in the recent past prosecuting others for the exact same sort of activity, the media rightly investigated and reported it fully. There was no free pass that differentiates it from the three I listed earlier nor is there any sort of investigative bias since all of these scandals have been brewing for years, some even decades. When it became news, the media reported it.
So what’s the reality in this perceived bias against Republicans and conservatives in sex scandals? It seems to be from the Republican party and conservatives themselves.
The party’s platform advances a pro-family, anti-gay equality and anti-gender equality agenda that is in direct opposition of these sex scandals. Where Democrats actively sought the repeal of sodomy laws, Republicans actively seek to constitutionally ban gay marriage. Where left-wing activists seek to legalize and regulate prostitution, conservatives fight for the governmental oversight of a woman’s own body and sexual choices. Not everyone in the parties or of the political mindset feel the same, surely, but enough so that it defines each. This is the reality. Differentiation between these two poles couldn’t be clearer. Nor the reason the impact of Republicans or conservatives found guilty of sexual impropriety is easier to highlight in the public.
Are there more Republican than Democratic sex scandals? Probably not. But do the Republican ones mean more? Absolutely. For Democrats and left-wing activists (of which to clarify I’m neither) this sort of impropriety is less important because they see it as a private area of personal behavior. For Republicans and conservatives it’s more important because it belongs to an area of behavior they seek to regulate and control. For a political party that talks this talk, how could anyone, the media and the public at large which is generally somewhere in the middle of the political spectrum, not find obtuse disigenuousness in those Republicans and conservative that do not walk that walk.
Before Republicans and conservatives criticize the media for some sort of bias, they should either change their attitudes or clean their own house first. This would be the beginning in closing the schism between what a Republican or conservative believes to what occasionally a Republican or conservative does. Promoting the family and protecting women and children from sexual exploitation are noble ideals, but Republicans and conservatives don’t realize that when they promote those ideals into black and white laws, they have to abide by them in the same manner they have determined for the rest of the country. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for Republicans and conservatives to acknowledge that idealism is uniquely determined whereas reality could and perhaps should be a little more forgiving.