New International Version (NIV)
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
I know, I know. I am not typically impressed by people who can quote scripture chapter and verse. I admit that I wrote that. It’s still true, but it turns out that I myself have favorite passages.
Is hypocrisy in the eye of the beholder? I thought that espousing a view while behaving in a manner contrary to that view is a pretty clear-cut case of being hypocritical. Am I wrong about this? There seems to be an opposing view.
Take, for example, Presidential candidate and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich (R-GA). While he was Speaker, he famously led the impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, based largely on extramarital improprieties, while simultaneously engaged in an affair with then-future wife # 3 as he was still married to wife # 2. [Historical revisionists will tell you that the impeachment was not about sex, but about perjury and obstruction. Those of us who were alive back then and have reasonably good memories recall that the investigation started as a probe into a real estate deal gone bad and turned to the sex scandal when the suspicions about the Clintons’ role in the land deal were found to be groundless.] So putting Gingrich’s picture in the dictionary with the “hypocrite” entry is not out of order. At the very least, Gingrich has forever lost the privilege of sanctimoniously judging the extramarital dalliances of others.
Likewise, Gingrich, given his history of how he left wives #s 1 and 2 for then-future wives (I’m finished using that term, I swear!) #s 2 and 3 respectively, among other transgressions, he has forfeited the right to use the word ‘despicable’ to describe someone other than himself. His picture could appear in the dictionary there, too.
So now Gingrich has asked for and received forgiveness. Great! I’m all for forgiveness and redemption. It’s quite biblical. He has received some support and votes from Evangelical Christians, who, despite their claim to embrace all things biblical, tend to be less than generous with forgiveness. The thing is, Newt talks the talk. I’d maybe be more confident he is capable of walking the walk as well if he displayed the requisite humility, if he weren’t so bombastic and judgmental when it comes to the conduct of others. Alas, perhaps it will one day occur to him. In the meantime, I’ll regard Newt with the same head-shaking as I do radio windbag Rush Limbaugh who, without an apparent sense of irony, condemns people who abuse and/or are addicted to drugs.
Mind you, I don’t personally condone President Clinton’s behavior with the intern. Technically she was a consenting adult and there was nothing illegal about their relationship. But even setting aside the immorality of extramarital sex, there is a disparity of power between the Leader of the Free World and an intern in her mid-twenties. By that measurement, the relationship was exploitative. What I will say in Clinton’s defense is that he was not a hypocrite. He did not pursue the issue of other people’s sexual conduct as a matter of policy or politics.
Most of that is pretty old news. A more recent event is the Twitter-fed scandal of former U.S. Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who took suggestive photos of himself with his phone and sent them to women other than his wife. I don’t want to make fun of his name; that would be immature. But let’s just say that some of the pictures included shots of… for the sake of propriety, let’s just call it his priebus.* There was no report of any of the recipients of the pictures actually requesting or in any way wanting to see Weiner’s priebus. Neither was there any report that Weiner stuck his priebus into anyone other than his wife. Still, to call taking and sending such pictures a lapse in judgment is an understatement. It was stupid. It was creepy. Once it became known that he did what he did and not that his Twitter account had been hacked as he had originally claimed, he resigned from office within days.
Resignation was the correct course of action for Weiner. With the story out, that will be the thing for which he will be most remembered for years to come, perhaps for all posterity. He can no longer be a credible firebrand for the causes in which he believes, which align largely with the causes in which I believe. Damn! A special election was held in his district to fill his seat for the remainder of the term, and a Republican won. Damn, damn!
Some months before the Weiner scandal, another U.S. Representative, Christopher Lee (R-NY) posted a picture on Craigslist, unclothed from the waist up, also self-shot with a cell phone, in an apparent attempt to solicit an extramarital affair. When the picture surfaced, Lee resigned immediately. It happened so fast, there may not have been sufficient time for his party’s leadership to ask him to quit. A special election was held in his district to fill the remainder of his term, and that seat was won by a Democrat.
Besides being members of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of New York, Weiner and Lee have other things in common. Both are married men who took pictures of themselves that they posted online. Both apparently work out and are proud of their bodies. Neither apparently engaged in a physical extramarital affair, though their intentions are suspect. Neither was known for sanctimoniously campaigning or promoting policies while in office that judged others for their sexual conduct. Both resigned relatively quickly.
That, to my way of thinking, is how you ought to respond to a scandal! Quit quickly.
However, that is apparently not the standard for Republican U.S. Senators. Senator David Vitter (R-LA) has been implicated twice for sexual impropriety, each time for involvement with prostitutes. In 2002, he was running for governor of Louisiana when a newspaper ran an article accusing him of having a relationship with a prostitute. He dropped out of the governor’s race, citing problems in his marriage. As a senator, having been elected in 2004, he was implicated as a client in the DC Madam scandal of 2007. He was not prosecuted due to the statute of limitations, but he asked forgiveness for his indiscretion. He did not offer to resign his seat, and the national Republican Party was willing to forgive him because the Governor of Louisiana at the time was a Democrat, and she likely would have appointed a Democrat to finish Vitter’s term. For reasons I will leave for Louisiana voters to explain, Vitter won re-election in 2010. Just to clarify, in case you are wondering, neither prostitution nor solicitation of prostitutes is legal in Louisiana or Washington, DC.
Prostitution is legal in parts of Nevada, but that’s not part of the scandal in which Senator John Ensign (R-NV) became entwined. No, his scandal was a good old-fashioned extramarital affair. The principal parties to this affair, besides Ensign, are Doug and Cynthia Hampton, a married couple. Doug was Senator Ensign’s top administrative assistant and Cynthia was Ensign’s political treasurer, so their family was entirely dependent on Senator Ensign for income. It was reported that Cynthia wanted to end the affair but was afraid for their job statuses. (Punch line: Ensign fired them.) Doug was desperate for the affair to end and threatened to go public with the story, but Ensign found out about Doug’s plan and went public about the affair before Doug could do so. (Thanks for the heads-up, former Senator Rick Santorum, R-PA!)
There was also financial impropriety in the scandal: Ensign’s parents paid the Hamptons $ 96,000, claiming it was a ‘gift’ to close family friends (but certainly not severance pay!), and Ensign illegally arranged for Doug to get a lobbying job. Ultimately it was the financial elements that forced Ensign to resign, but that was not his Plan A. His Plan A was to remain in office and run for re-election in 2012. When he discovered that two rivals for his seat, one Democratic and one Republican, had each raised considerably more campaign contributions, Ensign switched to Plan B, which was to complete his term and not run for re-election. He said that he didn’t want to put his family through an “exceptionally ugly campaign.” (Big of him to consider his family, eh?) Plan C, resignation, came into play when it became clear he would have to testify to a Senate ethics committee which could expose criminal liability. His resignation was timed to become effective the day before he would have had to testify. A Republican was appointed by Nevada’s Republican governor to finish his term.
Besides being Republican Senators, David Vitter and John Ensign fashioned their political careers around social issues. They presented themselves as ‘family values’ candidates and legislators. Ensign, in 1998, called for President Bill Clinton to resign because of his dalliance with an intern, stating that the president had no credibility left. He voted for conviction after the House of Representatives voted to impeach Clinton. In speaking against same-sex marriage, he said that marriage was “the cornerstone on which our society was founded.” He also cited the “sanctity of the institution” in the same quote. As of this writing, Ensign’s marriage has survived his affair. The same cannot be said of the Hamptons’ marriage. Vitter consistently opposes abortion rights, sex education that includes information on contraception, and same-sex unions. Clearly he has no problem telling others how to conduct themselves, but he would be hard pressed to claim that he has held himself to a high standard.
So to recap: If you take suggestive pictures of yourself and post them online, pictures that subsequently become public, resign your elected office quickly even though no one is accusing you of putting your priebus into someone who is not your wife. But if you’re a Republican Senator who actually does put your filthy priebus into someone who is not your wife, stick it out. Your term in office, that is. Ensign only quit when his only other option was to submit to an ethics violation and face possible criminal prosecution.
During the Anthony Weiner blow-up, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Something-Or-Other,* publicly called upon Weiner to resign. Hold on there, Reince: Neither you nor any other prominent Republican called on Ensign or Vitter to resign at the height of their respective scandals, and you’re not calling on Vitter to resign even now. That is textbook hypocrisy.
Forgiveness and redemption? All well and good. I encourage it! But once you are a recipient of such grace, kindly refrain from judging others for not living up to a standard you yourself did not meet. Your credibility is shot.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got something stuck in my eye.
*End note: Reince Priebus is the name of the current Chairman of the Republican National Committee, having succeeded Michael Steele in January 2011. Ordinarily I am averse to “explaining the joke,” but my editor advises that this bit of knowledge may not be as widely known as I fancy it to be.