If De Tocqueville was observing the contemporary political scene, he would re-title his famous travelogue accordingly. The recent public peccadilloes of the latest social-conservatives-gone-bad, John Ensign and Mark Sanford, are as unsurprising as they are reflective of the common chasm between professed and lived values. Though a painful compromise of commitment and damaging to family, few fault these men for their actions in and of themselves. The pulls of the heart and the laws of attraction are complex, defying easy description and measurement. And none of us ever truly knows what goes on behind closed doors, within the dark recesses of troubled souls.
The critique and complaint against this dubious duo and their near-exclusively Republican ilk is the ignominious fall after such puritanical flight. Ensign and Sanford lobbed artillery shells from houses of Mikasa Crystal. One need not sport a PhD in psychology to diagnose the latest flavor-of-the-month moral renegade from sexual repression-turned-shame-faced refugee from the sanctimocracy.
But perhaps most galling (or at least a near runner up) is the abuse and exploitation of sacred texts and traditions to cloak the most narcissistic of agendas in robes of redemption. Sanford followed the lead of Bill Clinton, who branded himself a modern-day King David, the latest leader-gone-loopy-for-love whose plight should evoke sympathy and whose path to absolution should serve as model.
They may want to avoid the David dynamic, with its intimations not merely of adultery, but of murder to facilitate a more dangerous liaison. And the consequences suffered by David were not simply the spinning of damage control, a marriage encounter retreat with the Tammy Wynette-fortified wife and obligatory acts of contrition on Dr. Phil. David’s sowing of lustful, impulsive seeds reaped the unique bitterness of biblical poetic justice: he loses children to untimely death and ungrateful betrayal, his power is threatened and his household ravaged. Be careful what you wish for, Mr. Sanford.
With the classic selectivity of the fundamentalist, Sanford and his cockeyed kin cherry-pick through the Book of Samuel while glossing over an entire third of the Hebrew Scriptures: the Prophets. The 3 major league prophets and 12 Triple A aspirants understood the Mark Sanfords of the world well, and spoke with scathing accuracy to their arrogance, rationalization and moral myopia.
Appealing to the uber-pietists amongst Israel, who assume that asceticism and an obsessive-compulsive commitment to ritual are sufficient to encompass true faith, thus granting them a get-out-of-jail-free card from concerns for ethical conduct, God through Isaiah sets them straight
Is this the fast I look for? A day of self-affliction? Bowing your head like a reed, and covering yourself with sackcloth and ashes?… Is not this the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house? When you see the naked, to clothe them…
In other words, Messers Ensign, Sanford and a moralizing Republican up-and-comer-to-be-named-later, there’s health care legislation to be crafted, climate change regulations to be forged and loving relationships within the gay community to be sanctioned. Stay out of our bedrooms and worry less about our souls, and we’ll requite your inevitable falls from grace as only human.