The Party of Sinners

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Recently I found myself agreeing often with Meghan McCain, so I quickly checked into Tang to make sure it wasn't a tumor or something. No tumor, but I was three weeks pregnant. Ah Tang, always on the ball.

But seriously, why am I giving an "amen" to the daughter of a candidate who I thought had cynically watered down his own "maverick" streak to become another Republican presidential poser with no ideas?

She's pretty and blonde and got me all goose-pimply when she used the word "schadenfreude" correctly in a Daily Beast column. But there must be something else-it's those libertarian sensibilities that she's been trying to reinstall in the Republican Party. They just make a good deal of sense. She stood against Prop. 8 because why should Republicans want to dictate to other people how to form a family and be happy?

Now she says that we need to forgive South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and move on. In particular, Republicans should "concentrate less on what goes on in the bedroom and more on what is going on in policy. ... Yes, sex is an issue but it shouldn't be the only issue."

If you've been too preoccupied with cooking up conspiracy theories on how the King of Pop left this world, Sanford is the guy who decided to take off for five days without telling anyone where he was. Then he came back and told his constituents that he was visiting his Argentinian mistress, Maria Belen Chapur. Oh, and by the way, he took a trip down there last year on the taxpayers' dime to do a naughty tango or two with that same mistress.

How this man has remained in office for a whole week since then is a mystery, but it doesn't look like he will leave easily. His last Web posting said that he had to stay in office because "for God to really work in my life I shouldn't be getting off so lightly." So he has to stay in power to pay for his sins? How is living in the governor's mansion a form of repentance?

Anyway, many have already dismissed Sanford-who was thought to be a contender against Romney for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination-as a complete nut job. His long, incomprehensible apology speech didn't help him. But what if he's just like the other tens of millions of adulterers-a poor sap who cheated and then got scared?

When it comes to sex, American society is like a church minister with a Hall of Fame porn collection tucked into a fake-bottom drawer in the closet. Lots of finger-wagging and sermonizing on Sundays, and lots of guilty masturbation every other waking hour. We love the tawdry details of the private lives of powerful people, but we also love to chastise them for their sins and cast them off their pedestals.

Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, James McGreevey, John Ensign (another Republican up-and-comer lost) and now Sanford-all men who have been taken down in some way because of a wandering penis. Granted, some of them were guilty of actual crimes, but the real question on those that are only guilty of adultery is this: Why we can't follow Meghan McCain's advice and just let them be?

Nobody is saying that adultery and lying are acceptable, but why do we call for someone's immediate resignation when their foibles are uncovered, as if who they slept with has some actual impact on job performance? When we hear that our boss (or professor) has slept with somebody other than his/her spouse, do we immediately call for them to be fired? Of course not.

Yet we expect some kind of higher standard for those we put into public office. Once a deep character flaw in your sex life is revealed, so the argument might go, we can't trust that person with holding the reins of power.

But even Republicans at the head of the party are letting this ridiculous inference go. Two Republican leaders who still have a shred of credibility, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and Sen. Lindsey Graham R-S.C., said on "Meet the Press" Sunday that, incredibly, the party no longer has "ownership" of the values card.

Graham admitted that the GOP is "a party of sinners" just like regular folks and can't pretend to be upholding ideal moral standards. Then he said this about Obama: "President Obama, quite frankly, has been one of the better role models in the entire country for the idea of being a good parent, a good father. So this idea that we're for good families and Democrats are silent is not true."

This statement amounts to a surrender of the politics of moral superciliousness. When even the Republicans are saying that it's time to stop throwing stones in glass houses, a change might actually be in order. I don't want to see Sanford and his ilk get off-no pun intended-scot free. But if character truly is a problem, we should be punishing these candidates at the ballot box, not at the media pillory.

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