The minute I heard about Mark Souder's planned resignation and confessed adulterous affair, I knew I was quickly going to get tired of all the schadenfreude the left would start wallowing in: Tee hee, tee hee, another self-righteous, family-values-preaching, religious right moralizer gets caught with his pants down. Oh, the hypocrisy!
What surprised me, though, was how quickly I also got tired of the other side, all the apologists for Souder's "failings" -- he's just a man, there but for the grace of God and blah, blah, blah, as if the affair fell out of the sky and hit him on the head while he wasn't paying attention.
I am forced to agree, sort of, with E.J. Dionne:
It's not the self-righteousness of religious conservatives that bothers me most. We liberals can be pretty self-righteous, too. It's the refusal to acknowledge that the pressures endangering the family do not come from some dark secular leftist conspiracy but from cultural and economic forces that affect us all.
Sort of. Falls from grace come not from "cultural and economic forces" but from decisions made by adult, moral human beings who have a choice to do something or not do something. In his interview with the JG's Sylvia Smith (good scoop -- rats!), Souder says he ended the affair six months ago after the couple were caught in a parked car in a nature preserve in Whitley County and he had an "Omigod, what am I doing?" moment. A U.S. congressman, by definition one of the most powferful people in the country, with all the money and access in the world, and he's in a parked car like some teenager in heat? It makes his decision perfectly understandable and not a very deep mystery, doesnt it? He's the prototypical nerd-geek, praised all his life for his intellectual skills and arguing ability, not thought of as attractive, probably not thinking of himself as particularly sexual. And here is this bright, attractive younger woman. She likes me, she really likes me!
The problem with the finger pointers is that they forget the axiom that "hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue" and can end up promoting the idea that standards of behavior don't matter. If you're going to be beaten up anyway for sinning -- and beaten up even more for having preached that it is wrong to sin -- why even bother with the whole concept of sin? And the problem with the apologizers is that, well, they also can end up weakening our commitment to standards. Well, we all slip up from time to time; too bad. The standards do matter and we all are likely to fail to measure up to them from time to time. That doesn't invalidate the standards.
Oh, well. Life goes on. Really. You'll be happy to know that, while congressmen may come and go, the all-important staff members who provide the "constituent services" that constitute the bulk of government these days just seem to go on forever. Even if the special election to replace Souder doesn't happen until the regular election in November, his staff of 19 (!) people will remain in place to make sure nobody misses a check or a federal perk.
In the meantime, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal has come along to underscore the one thing Souder got right -- which was to stand up and admit he had erred and apologize to everyone he had hurt. He's finally issued a formal apology, more than a week after he was outed for lying about serving in Vietnam and kept blaming the press and everybody else for trying to use "a few misplaced words" to mar his service record. Granted that Souder's sin was greater -- he hurt actual people, as opposed to an ideal people share about stolen valor -- Blumenthal's response was the true coward's reflexive lashing out.