This week, second term Gov. Mark Sanford of South Carolina disappeared for six days, leaving the state without a chief executive who could make decisions in an emergency. His Republican lieutenant governor didn’t know where he was, and had not been given any authority to make decisions in his absence. The state police said they had not been informed. His wife told the Associated Press (AP) she didn’t know where he was, and thought he was “writing something and wanted some space to get away from the kids” over the Father’s Day weekend. His senior aides said he was walking along the Appalachian Trail to “clear his head.”
But it wasn’t his head that he was clearing. When he returned, after first lying to a reporter who caught up with him on his return to the Atlanta airport, he finally admitted he went to Argentina to meet with a long-time lover. His wife later said she and the governor had separated two weeks earlier. The State later produced e-mail love letters it had been keeping since December.
The rising young star of the Republican party who was seen as a presidential contender in 2012, the man who was head of the Republican Governors Association until the day after he acknowledged his extramarital affair, the man who had wanted to deprive his state of $700 million in federal stimulus funds as a political message to President Obama, the man who had established himself as a beacon for the sanctity of marriage and the values of the oh-so-pure Religious right, who a decade earlier as a congressman had strongly condemned Bill Clinton’s extramarital affair, was not only an adulterer, but for at least the second time had left his state at risk since there were no contingency plans of how to reach him in an emergency.
Alas, Gov. Sanford isn’t the only “family values” philanderer. Slightly more than a week earlier, Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) admitted he had a nine month extramarital affair with one of his campaign staff. Ensign, who was contemplating a run for president in 2012, had been chair of the Republican Policy Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Like Gov. Sanford, Sen. Ensign only admitted to the affair after information had been leaked to the media.
This is the same John Ensign who, as a congressman, had curled his lips in revulsion at Bill Clinton’s affair, and demanded he either resign or be impeached. Later, as a senator, Ensign supported a federal ban on same sex marriages by declaring, “Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded . . . . and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation.” Ironically, Ensign is active in Promise Keepers, a Christian evangelical ministry “dedicated to uniting men to become ‘godly influences’ in the world.”
Also vigorously calling for President Clinton’s impeachment, while having had their own extramarital affairs and covering them up or lying about them, were:
● Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chair of the House judiciary committee and the “house manager” for the impeachment, who lied about his own four-year affair with a married woman and then when a newspaper published details in 1998 called the affair in the 40s nothing more than a “youthful indiscretion.” He retired in 2007 after 17 terms in the House.
●Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who was the first legislator in Congress to call for Clinton’s resignation and then became one of the leaders of the impeachment movement. Barr’s background, however, wasn’t family values pure. He never denied committing adultery with his second wife, and later, while married to his third wife, was photographed at what passed as a charity event licking whipped cream off the breasts of two women. Barr left office in 2003, after four terms.
● Rep. Helen Chenoweth (R-Idaho), who was one of the first to call for Clinton’s resignation, told the Spokane Spokesman-Review that God had pardoned her sins for her six-year extra-marital affair. Chenoweth left office in January 2001 after keeping her promise not to serve more than three terms.
● Fourteen term Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind), chair of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, who not only had a long-time affair with a state employee but had fathered a son from that affair. His website once screamed, “Above all, Dan Burton believes the people have a right to principled leadership and that character does matter.”
● Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), House speaker from 1995 to 1999, who may have had an affair while his first wife was in the hospital recovering from cancer. Gingrich later cheated on his second wife with the woman who became his third wife during the time he was pushing for Clinton’s resignation.
● Rep. Bob Livingston (R-La.), who was Gingrich’s designated successor until he admitted his own infidelities and eventually resigned from the House.
● Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who was elected to Livingston’s House seat and served three terms before being identified in a prostitution scandal in Louisiana. In 2004, he was elected to the Senate, three years before Hustler magazine linked him as a client of a prostitution service in Washington, D.C.
● Rep. Don Sherwood (R-Pa), who had a five year affair with a woman who later charged that Sherwood had assaulted her several times. He eventually settled for what AP reported was about $500,000. Among those who supported Sherwood during his primary re-election were Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), one of the leaders of the conservative coalition who in November 2005 said that “Compassionate Conservatism relies on healthy families,” and President George W. Bush who went to northeastern Pennsylvania to help raise funds for Sherwood. However, in the general election of November 2006, Sherwood was defeated for a fifth term.
● Rep. Vito Fossella Jr. (R-N.Y.), who, as a first term congressman with a 100 percent voting approval record from the Christian Coalition, was morally outraged at Bill Clinton’s personal conduct. A decade later, he was arrested for drunken driving in May 2008. Upon intense media scrutiny, he also admitted that while still married he had fathered a girl, now four years old, with an Air Force congressional liaison officer who was the woman who came to his assistance the night of his DUI arrest. After six terms, Fossella chose not to run for a seventh term.
● Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who had delivered a passionate plea to the Senate on why he planned to vote to convict President Clinton, citing legal issues. However, McCain had previously acknowledged his own several extramarital affairs in the 1970s, and had accepted the blame for the deterioration of his first marriage and estrangement from his children.
Republican leaders aren’t the only ones who commit adultery, nor are conservatives or members of the Religious Right, including preachers, solely the ones to have violated the seventh and tenth Commandments. Democrats also have a litany of their own scandals. But, it is the “family values” Republican leaders, who have led the party of right wing moral indignation; it is the Religious Right that has overtaken the party and wears the now-tarnished shield of righteousness to protect itself against anyone who doesn’t share their own views of the world, including moderate and liberal Republicans, and anyone belonging to another political party.