Marriage And The Political Moral Standard
July 6, 2009
Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Jackson, John Edwards, Elliot Spitzer, Tim Mahoney, David Vitter, John Ensign, Mark Sanford and a galaxy of politicians too numerous to list have committed adultery.
Whenever a Democrat politician commits adultery, Democrats pull out their list of Republican adulterers, and whenever a Republican politician commits adultery, Republicans pull out their list of Democrat adulterers. This whole battle of the “lists” is boring and pointless. Let’s just say a whole bunch of politicians from all over the political spectrum are “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” and doing the “Lewinsky” with someone other than their spouse and be done with it.
If we put the battle of the “lists” aside, we are left with a moral debate, framed mostly in the language of politics, about the nature of marriage. Republicans and conservatives usually look for illegalities when attacking Democratic adulterers like “He lied under oath”, “Prostitution is illegal,” and “He used campaign funds as hush money.” Democrats and liberals consistently hammer “the party of hypocrites who espouse family values and then fool around” theme when attacking Republican adultery.
The difference in the political rhetoric each side uses is revealing and much more important than the details of any marital infidelity committed by a particular politician. That conservatives point to illegalities committed as a byproduct of Democratic adultery indicates that the charge of adultery alone is not enough to oust a liberal Democrat politician. The charge of hypocrisy used by liberals to attack conservatives is the more interesting argument, interesting because it reveals a truth not about conservatives, but about the left. In order to be a hypocrite, one must have a publicly professed moral standard that is violated by adultery. By charging conservatives with hypocrisy, the left admits to a lack of any publicly expressed moral standard of its own.
Conservatives and many other Americans believe in marriage as a compact between a man, a woman, and God. In this traditional view of marriage, adultery is not just a betrayal of a marriage vow between a man and a woman, but a breaking of one’s covenant with God. Of course, even this higher form of commitment, does not make conservatives immune to sin, and probably does not make them substantially less likely to break marriage vows. I know liberal politicians and opinion makers, who, as far as I can tell, do not have the same concept of a “higher commitment” regarding marriage, but do seem to have a strong sense of personal commitment to marriage in their private lives anyway.
The debate about adultery, marriage and divorce is primarily one of “voice”. Who discourages adultery and divorce, and who by their trivialization of a “higher commitment”, encourages it. In public, and as a matter of policy, conservatives strive to discourage adultery and divorce. In public, and as a matter of policy, liberal progressives often present changing partners as just another lifestyle choice comparable to getting a new pair of shoes.
This rhetorical bias for adultery and divorce among liberals has its roots in the early radical feminist movement of the 60’s and 70’s, which told women that marriage was submission to patriarchy, and adultery and divorce were liberating. The other culprit is the sexual revolution that took place during the 60’s and 70’s. The baby boomers, and their “If it feels good do it” mantra, are as much to blame as the feminists. “Doing it” and “feeling good” became culturally acceptable in much of America, and “feeling good” for a lot of men and women, means having numerous sexual partners. Since then, many liberals have discarded these positions as a practical matter in their personal lives, but to this day, most have not abandoned the public rhetoric of adultery and divorce as sexual and personal liberation.
Conservatism is not about being perfect. Conservatives make many mistakes and have the same human weaknesses as anyone else. It’s what we do after we make a mistake that defines a conservative. Conservatives don’t change beliefs about fundamental issues just because we were too weak to live up to our own high standards. The goal for conservatives, and anyone who believes in marriage as a higher form of commitment, is to elevate behavior to meet the traditional standard, and not to lower standards to a baser level of behavior. That all humans can fail is understood. But, if words do mean things, conservatives are the more responsible voices in the debate on adultery and marriage. We encourage the view of marriage as a sacred commitment between man, woman, and God, and it is that viewpoint and that high standard, which produces the greatest good, for the greatest number of people.