Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Ensign Admits to Affair

The thing about Sen. John Ensign's admission today that he had an affair with a female staffer last year is that it really doesn't surprise me.

Maybe that's due, in part, to where I grew up. When I was a boy, I lived in the 2nd District of Arkansas, where Wilbur Mills was the congressman for nearly four decades. His career effectively came to an end in 1974 when he was found with his mistress, a stripper from South America, in the Washington Tidal Basin. As I recall, it was quickly nicknamed "The Old Mills Stream" by a political writer in Little Rock.

Actually, I guess the thing about Ensign's affair that really surprises me is the fact that he's a Republican.

It shouldn't surprise me, I suppose. For some reason — and in spite of the fact that I am a Democrat — I associate that kind of behavior with Democratic politicians. A couple of years after Mills' comeuppance, another Democrat named Wayne Hays was caught with his mistress on his payroll. She confessed that she couldn't type, file or "even answer the phone."

Just before he was elected president, Jimmy Carter granted an interview to Playboy that hit the newsstands about a month before the election. In that interview, Carter admitted looking at other women "with lust in my heart." It is an indication of how naïve the American public was in those days that such a statement was considered shocking.

Gary Hart's presidential campaign was derailed in 1987 because of his affair with Donna Rice. In the 1990s, President Clinton's testimony in his deposition in Paula Jones' lawsuit led to his impeachment.

And, really, it isn't necessary to bring up Ted Kennedy, is it?

But, last year, when John Edwards' infidelity was revealed, I pointed out that Republicans have had plenty of transgressors over the years, too.

I suppose my initial response to Ensign's revelation shows how well the GOP gambit has worked. I don't know much about Ensign, to tell you the truth. I suppose the media outlets in his home state of Nevada will enlighten us in the days to come, but I know that he is Pentecostal, that he considers himself a "born again" Christian and he and his wife have three children.

That's all I know, but the marriage of the Republican Party and the Moral Majority in 1980 was so successful that I guess I've become predisposed to regard Democrats as more vulnerable to sexual temptation than Republicans.

But that is not so. In fact, before 1980, religious voters were not considered a voting bloc that was likely to support either party, and I don't recall either side blatantly appealing to some voters on strictly moral grounds. By embracing the anti–abortion movement and co–opting the phrase "pro–life," the Republicans have profited from high support levels from conservative Christians.

And that has led to an unfair bias in the area of fidelity.

Perhaps now the Republicans truly are losing an undeserved advantage that they've enjoyed for three decades.

Ensign says the affair was the "worst thing I have ever done in my life."

I'm sure he feels that way. But there are a few things that aren't clear to me at this point.

For example, why did he feel compelled to speak about this now? Were reporters sniffing around, the way they did before they came up with the goods on Hart? Was someone about to spill the beans?

If not, I'd say it all speaks well for Sen. Ensign. If no one was pressuring him, his decision to come clean for the public would be admirable.

But, in my experience, people seldom do these things to gain a sense of closure. They do them because they have been backed into a corner.

1 comment:

Mike Licht said...

John Ensign is a veterinarian. Is "Neuter and Spay the Only Way"?