Sex scandals just haven’t been the same since Bill Clinton left town. Imagine yourself watching Hank Aaron hit a home run, then Jason Heyward. A home run is a home run, and Heyward is a right fielder for the Atlanta Braves, just like Aaron. But there’s something different when a seasoned hall of famer is at the plate. Oh sure, every now and then you’ll get a governor running off to Argentina, or some senator tapping someone’s foot under a bathroom stall. But for sheer size and scope, nothing compares to Weinergate.
One of the great moments of the Clinton / Lewinsky mess came when Mary Matalin explained, “When the Clinton scandal first broke out I said to my husband, ‘James, we both understand the rules of marriage – right, James?’” Had this quote received wider play, it would have ended the is-it-or-isn’t-it-sex debate. Take it outside the poisonous cloud of political one-upmanship and ask any woman who cares whether turning an intern into a spittoon (of sorts) is acceptable behavior. Her answer will be the correct one.
None of that means Bill Clinton couldn’t be an effective president. By itself, adultery does not make someone a poor public servant. It would make him a bad husband, father, and Christian (if he has the nerve to call himself one), but you needn’t be great at any of those things to be a good public servant. (I am not now, nor will I ever be convinced that Mrs. Clinton especially cares whether Bill strays, but that is a discussion for another time.) Clinton’s problem, of course, was the lying under oath, the mental illness, et cetera.
This sets the groundwork for Mark Souder (R-IN), an Evangelical Christian, resigning from Congress because of an affair with Tracy Jackson, a hotter-than-he-deserves staffer who worked at Souder’s district office. Reading from prepared remarks Tuesday, Souder said he “sinned against God, my wife, and my family” by conducting the affair, explaining further than even though he was confident he could legally survive the ordeal, he was resigning rather than put his family through the “painful, drawn out process” of a re-election campaign.
What Souder means is a more painful and drawn out process. There would be fewer things more painful for a wife and children than to learn their husband / father’s commitment to his God, wife, and family are malleable. If Souder had any special regard for his loved ones, this would never have happened. Moreover, any man who legitimately cared about the general well being of his family simply would not serve in Congress. The work calls for too much time away from home for anyone to be an effective husband or father.
In a body whose members are all thought to be power hungry, one feels compelled to thank Souder for having the good sense to resign. After all, he’s just an adulterer. He’s not publicly corrupt, mentally ill, or a perjurer; nor has he suborned the perjury of others. He has not abandoned the duties of his office and lied about his whereabouts to cover up an affair. He has not accepted bribes or kept tens of thousands of dollars of bribe money in his freezer. He has not attempted to engage in gay sex in a public bathroom. In other words, Mark Souder has done absolutely nothing worse than Bill Clinton, Mark Sanford, William Jefferson, or Larry Craig.
That said, Souder’s resignation has nothing to do with sparing his family any process: it is a function of minimizing whatever damage is done to the Republican party, in hopes it can keep the seat when Election Day rolls around. This type of seat-covering serves an important political purpose (especially this year); he cannot be allowed to linger and damage the party. Fair enough. But let’s not be fooled for a moment by the notion Souder resigned to save his family further discomfort.