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Opening Arguments


Fromer Bush administration official and Washington Post op-ed columnist Michael Gerson writes about the fall from grace of Mark Souder, for whom he once worked on Capitol Hill, and draws a dinstinction between sexual conduct and "less sensual vices":

Moral conservatives need to admit that political character is more complex than marital fidelity and that less sensual vices also can be disturbing. "The sins of the flesh are bad," said C.S. Lewis, "but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."

Yet moral liberals have something to learn as well. The failure of human beings to meet their own ideals does not disprove or discredit those ideals. The fact that some are cowards does not make courage a myth. The fact that some are faithless does not make fidelity a joke. All moral standards create the possibility of hypocrisy. But I would rather live among those who recognize standards and fail to meet them than among those who mock all standards as lies. In the end, hypocrisy is preferable to decadence.

He's trying to make a case for mercy as "the most underrated" of moral virtues: "Yes, people are baser than their highest ideals. They are also nobler than their worst moments. This does not make the distinction between base and noble impossible. But it makes a little grace appropriate."

As G.W.'s chief speechwriter for a time, Gerson was generally given credit for coming up with the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" metaphor to convince us Saddam Hussein was a nuclear threat, and for "Axis of Evil," so he will be seen by many as using colorful language to sell bad ideas. But he's also the author of perhaps the one great line (I think) to come out of the Bush administration: "the soft bigotry of low expectations."


Fri, 06/04/2010 - 10:11am

The problem isn't with endorsing the Ideal. It's with efforts to be judged positively for association with the ideal and with efforts to have others judged negatively for not promoting the ideal.

If Souder had said something like, "marital fidelity is a good thing, and I aspire to it but sometimes fall short" we probably wouldn't be having this particular discussion. (Of course, we probably wouldn't care about Mark Souder at all because a politician who makes statements like that probably wouldn't get elected.)

Fri, 06/04/2010 - 8:54pm

Although I do not know to what or to whom Michael Gerson was referring when he made the comment about

Tue, 06/08/2010 - 7:03pm

And if Souder were an honest and moral man, he wouldn't have violated his oath to term-limit himself.
Furthermore, I take umbrage at the constant conservative braying that liberals don't make a big deal of sexual indiscressions because we have no moral compass. We don't think it's a big deal because we aren't sexually repressed and therefore obssessed with what other people do in private.
I think adultery is a relatively minor offense, but I've never cheated on my wife in my 28-year marriage.
Souder's pronouncements on personal morality tell me, if nothing else, he worries about sex a very great deal.

tim zank
Tue, 06/08/2010 - 7:16pm

We established the fact before Littlejohn that liberals by and large think it perfectly normal to sleep with anyone or anything. Why bring it up again? Nobody to argue with on the lefty sites tonight?

Lewis Allen
Tue, 06/08/2010 - 8:42pm

Conservatives are obsessed with everyone's sex life but their own. Ted Haggary, Mark Souder, Jim Sanford; they're all cut from the same cloth. Do as I say, not as I do.

Thu, 06/10/2010 - 4:19pm

Oh, come on Tim. Who established that liberals think it "perfectly normal to sleep with anyone or anything"?
I'm liberal, and I don't believe that, so, ipso facto, your argument is disproved.
I believe, for example, that pedophiles who act on their urges with children are clearly criminals. Yet the group most closely associated with pedophilia isn't liberals, it's Catholic priests. This can be established with a quick google search.
You'd be easier to take seriously if you would quit making assertions for which you can produce no evidence. Of course, we liberals do eat babies. You've got us there.
Did a Democrat beat you up when you were a little boy or something? I don't hate conservatives.