I’m live blogging Midmorning‘s first hour on Thursday, a discussion about politicians and their affairs. Over our neighboring cubicles on Wednesday, I gave Kerri Miller my view: marriage is about as serious as a commitment as there is, and if you’re willing to sell it out, the chances are pretty good you’d think nothing of taking a lesser route on the road of ethics. It’s more a question of character than a matter of hypocrisy.
But is it a more egregious violation if it’s a Republican who walks the Appalachian Trail?
“This is a very disturbing trend that some of their leaders can’t abide by some of the values they as a party used to esteem, or should esteem,” David Woodard, a Republican consultant and political science professor at South Carolina’s Clemson University told the Los Angeles Times last week.
“As other Republicans come up for consideration, this is certainly one of the first things they’ll have to address,” Woodard said. “Voters will be looking at their private lives much more than before.”
Fine. But does that mean a Democrat who admits to an affair gets a pass?
“The American public is often forgiving of personal mistakes,” Julian Zelizer, a political science professor at Princeton University, wrote in the New York Times. “There have been many instances when voters re-elect politicians who have suffered through damaging events. But voters don’t like it when a politician does something that directly contradicts the core arguments that they or their party have been making in the public arena.”
Both Zilizer and Woodard are the guests during the hour (starting at 9:06 a.m.), and I’d like to have a corresponding discussion here to share during the hour. So please share your thoughts below.
9:02 a.m. – Let’s start by trying to separate the political from the moral. Take this poll.
9:04 a.m. – Some of the comments are getting mailed in. Just got this one:
“We are born with two innate urges. One is to eat, the other is to reproduce. There should be no surprise that infidelity is part of the human condition.”
9:07 a.m. – Here’s Kerri’s intro she read just now:
There are new calls this morning for South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford to resign–A dozen Republican state senators have asked Sanford to step down…and a handful of county GOP chairs are calling for him to quit. One of the largest newspapers in the state has also editorialized that Sanford should tender his resignation.
The chorus for the governor to leave office grew louder this week….after he disclosed more details about his extra-marital affair. In a lengthy interview with the Associated Press… Sanford said he was no longer in love with his wife…that his Argentinian mistress was his “soul mate”…and that he’d had other encounters with women during trips with friends. At one point he told the journalists: “I will be able to die knowing that I had met my soul mate.”
Attorney General Henry McMaster has asked the State Law Enforcement Division to review all of Sanford’s travel records to determine whether he broke state laws.
So far, Sanford has said he will fulfill the remaining 18 months of his term…but there are diverging opinions on whether he can still be effective…. There are also differing perspectives on whether marital fidelity tells us anything about the kind of leader someone can be?
And that’s where you, our audience, comes in this morning.
9:09 a.m. – We’re starting with Woodard. “I feel like I’m watching a marital autopsy,” he says. We’re all still trying to figure out why Sanford felt the need to make matters worse by saying he doesn’t love his wife anymore, has found his soulmate and still hopes to reconcile.
9:10 a.m. “Do Men See Mark Sanford in the Mirror?” the Los Angeles Times asks this morning.
Call me crazy, but amid all this finger-wagging, am I detecting just a little bit of — gasp — empathy? Is there something about Sanford’s puppyish comportment, not to mention the fact that, unlike many adulterous politicos, he seems to be truly in love with his mistress (or at least truly convinced that he is) that’s making him less a pariah and more a symbol of the male midlife crisis? For all his duplicity and entitlement, are some Americans — particularly men — feeling as much pity as outrage? Consider this small sample:
You can read the rest for yourself but it seems to me the suggestion is most men are doing this. Quite a generalization. Does Mark Sanford represent you, gentlemen?
9:13 a.m. – “There’s a few people on the Democratic side enjoying this,” Woodard says.
9:14 a.m. – Can you be an effective leader after having admitted to an affair? “Yeah, I think you can,” Julian Zelizer says. He uses the fact Wilbur Mills got re-elected. But lots of crooked politicians have been re-elected. Does that make them good leaders, or just good crooks?
9:18 a.m. – Chuck (caller): “He seems to be extremely selfish and putting himself in front of everything else and these aren’t the times for that.” Zelizer says bad economic times can make people angrier. The condition of the Republican Party could make people shakier about “having someone like this in the spotlight.” On the other hand, the Great Depression involved FDR having some behavior issues, and yet is considered one of the greatest presidents.
9:21 a.m. – Katherine (callers) says the issue isn’t personal transgressions but incompetence to govern.
9:23 a.m. – “He’s telling us much more than any of us need to know,” Zelizer says. “People don’t understand why he can’t stop himself.” Dave Woodard reacts to my comment so the air just now that 100% of the people taking the News Cut poll says the crime here is “being a hypocrite.” “I think that’s accurate,” he said.
9:25 a.m. – Thelma of Minneapolis writes:
“It matters very much when it takes a hypocritical stance. Didn’t Gov Sanford publicly reprehended Pres Clintion for his indiscretions? ”
Why, yes, that’s true. And funny you should mention that:
|The Colbert Report||Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|The Clinton Curse|
9:28 a.m. – Woodard says Sanford makes it hard to attract candidates to run for office. He says since Watergate, we’re telling people more than they want to know. It’s an interesting comment because very little about Watergate coverage had anything to do with personal lives.
9:30 a.m. – A revelation that everyone knows but few acknowledge. Woodard says bill and proposals such as Defense of Marriage are designed more to increase voter turnout than actually “defend marriage.”
9:35 a.m. – We’re back after the break. Kerri and I have been talking about what great guests Woodard and Zelizer are.
9:36 a.m. – Caller says it’s not about hypocrisy etc. It’s about whether or not “you’re lying to me. If you’re lying to me or the voters, you’re out, bucko, because lying means I can’t trust you about anything else.” Kerri asks if he holds his politicians to 100% truthfulness. He says a broken promise well explained isn’t lying. But “if you ask where are you and I lie about that, that’s deceit. That’s just bald-faced lying.”
9:38 a.m. – Responding to that, Dave Woodard said, “I did not have sex with that woman.” He says you can lie and get away with it in office. But, for the record, Clinton never came up for a vote after lying to the American people.
9:40 a.m. – The Digitel in Charleston, SC:
The point here is, yes, flay Sanford for his marital indiscretions, but we’ve got to recognize the real problem is how South Carolina has been starved in education — and that’s the real root of our job problems.
9:41 a.m. – Zelizer: “We don’t elect angels, we elect politicians. Ideally we’d love a government full of truth-tellers but I’m not sure we’re ever going to have that and I think most voters know that.”
9:43 a.m. – Talk shifts a bit to Sanford’s presidential aspirations. “Mitt Romney is smiling,” Woodard says. “If after a big-spending administration like the Obama administration and you want to cut taxes, I think Gov. Sanford could’ve stood very tall. But it’s a moot point now.”
What about Tim Pawlenty?
“There’s a lack of a clear farm team of leaders not only to run for president, but to define what the party is all about. In 2004, people said the Democrats were done. Parties can remake themselves very quickly. It’s too early and the loss of Sanford isn’t a huge detriment…. it’s not a sign the party can’t rebound. These scandals happen. We hear that these are the people who are natural leaders, but nobody had ever heard of them until then. Pawlenty and Romney are two of the leaders still standing. Romney is more formidable.”
9:47 a.m. – I thinking maybe I should add a poll question: Is it wrong to have an affair?
9:49 a.m. “I factor in hypocrisy, don’t we expect it?” Kerri asks. “Yeah, but we don’t like to see it in our face,” Zelizer says.
9:51 a.m. – “People will give politicians give and take if they make a position and they can’t take it later on because of the circumstances. What they can’t seem to accept is when they take an oath or a vow,” says Woodard. “When they violate those kind of things (marriage vows), they violate something in a serious situation and they’re on record as being hypocrites and that’s why hypocrisy is winning.” (He’s referring to the poll posted above)
9:52 a.m. – Time to turn this hypocrisy thing around. Suppose a governor spends two terms telling you taxes are wrong. Is he a hypocrite if he raises taxes? Would we hold that against a governor?
9:54 a.m. – Caller’s observation: “If the governor were a woman, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“The images of politics is smoking, drinking, and fooling around,” Zelizer says. “It’s hard to see a woman candidate surviving thise.”
It’s not much of an issue in South Carolina, Woodard notes, because the state has the lowest number of elected female politicians.
9:57 a.m. – Gail Collins in the New York Times today
Talking about money was familiar ground for South Carolina conservatives, and for a while it looked as if they might settle on a rule that sex is irrelevant unless it leads to a tax increase.
This was a great hour. I hope you continue the discussion down below in the comments section!