The news media is abuzz with the revelation of South Carolina Governor Mark Stanford’s infidelity. In case you hadn’t heard, the governor spent Father’s Day weekend in Buenos Aires, Argentina with his girlfriend. The cat was let out of the bag when his staff was unable to contact him for several days and something akin to a panic ensued. Upon his return, he admitted the affair. The episode presumably ends any presidential aspirations that Gov. Sanford may have had.
When a Republican finds himself in a sex scandal, there is always a much bigger to-do than when a Democrat is in similar trouble. Compare the media treatment of Senators Larry Craig (the airport bathroom), David Vitter (DC prostitutes), and Rep. Mark Foley (texting to underage male pages) with Democrats like John Edwards (whose affair the press did not report on until after the presidential campaign when the National Enquirer broke the story) and Bill Clinton (Monica-gate). It seems that the press always gives the Republicans much more scrutiny.
This rule doesn’t apply just to sex scandals. It also applies to financial misconduct. Compare the coverage of Rep. Tom Delay and Senator Ted Stevens (accused of misconduct with lobbyists) to that of William Jefferson (caught red-handed with thousands of dollars of cold, hard cash in his freezer). The Jefferson story was all but ignored. The press also looks the other way on corruption stories regarding Democrats Chris Dodd, Diane Feinstein, Tom Murtha, and Charles Schumer (among others). After the one-sided coverage in favor of Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign, there can be no doubt that most media outlets are strongly biased toward the Democrats.
Whether sexual or otherwise, the media minimizes and ignores Democratic scandals while playing up Republican ones. In many cases, this is appropriate. The difference is that, rightly or wrongly, Republicans are perceived as being the party of family and religious values, personal responsibility, and integrity. Republican politicians are only too happy to accept the votes and support that this perception brings, while failing to live up to their own standards in both national financial responsibility as well as their personal morality.
On the other hand, Democrats seldom make such claims. To the contrary, much of the Democratic platform is geared toward preventing people from being accountable for their actions. If someone is sexually irresponsible, the Democrats believe that they have a right to abort their “mistake.” If someone is financially irresponsible, the Democrats believe that they are entitled to a government bailout. This is equally true for corporations and individuals. Instead of holding criminals responsible for their actions, the Democrats blame the gun they used or the environment in which they live.
After a scandal breaks, morally responsible Republicans should own up to their mistakes. Contrary to media beliefs, no one ever said that Republicans, conservatives, Christians or anyone else was incapable of making mistakes. We are all human and all humans sin (Romans 3:23). We should not attempt to hold anyone to an impossibly high standard.
Whether a Republican deserves support after a scandal depends on the circumstances. We should not categorically support all Republicans regardless of their actions just because they are not Democrats. Neither should we abandon all Republicans at the first hint of scandal. In Ted Stevens' case, the charges against him were thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct, but only after he lost his senate seat to a Democratic challenger.
There are several factors to consider. First, is whether the actions were intentional or not. Even if the actions were unintentional, they may have been the result of gross negligence or carelessness. We should also consider whether the scandalous actions were illegal and, if so, to what level. If the person is found guilty of a felony, then he should be removed from office in most cases. A misdemeanor or something less might not require this. Finally, but not least, we must consider whether the person’s actions affect their ability to fulfill their duties. If so, then they should not be supported. (It is worthy to note that Bill Clinton committed perjury and was found guilty and impeached by the House of Representatives, but the Senate did not remove him from office. Throughout the process, he continued to receive high levels of support from Democrats and the votes were largely along party lines.)
Conservatives and Republicans are right to be held to a higher standard. Public officials who are charged with writing, interpreting, and enforcing laws should be held to a higher standard than the general public. Republicans and conservatives who are Christian should meet an even higher standard: The standard of WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:22, this means avoiding even the appearance of impropriety, sexual or otherwise.
If more Republicans took Paul’s advice, there would undoubtedly be fewer Republicans in trouble and the Republican Party would be considered much more trustworthy by the electorate. Recently polling indicates that conservatives make the largest ideological group in the US. 40% of Americans consider themselves conservative (versus 35% moderate and 21% liberal) (http://www.gallup.com/poll/120857/Conservatives-Single-Largest-Ideological-Group.aspx). The problem is that 39% of Americans consider themselves Democrats and only 32% consider themselves Republicans (http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/party_affiliation/partisan_trends). A significant number of conservatives actually consider themselves Democrats! By continually violating their own core beliefs, Republicans have alienated voters.
So when the media attacks a Republican or conservative for making a moral mistake, don’t get angry. This is as it should be. Don’t rush to abandon them at the first sign of trouble either. Wait for the facts and don’t believe every negative thing you hear. Shockingly, the media has been known to rush stories critical of Republicans even when they are short on facts (Dan Rather’s story about George W. Bush’s National Guard service that was based on fraudulent documents).
Republicans and conservatives should be beacons of integrity that not only highlight the difference between Republicans and Democrats, but also Christians and nonbelievers. When Republicans stop being hypocrites, then maybe they will win back the public trust.
Save the criticisms of media bias for issues that don’t deal with morality. We should continue to work for a level playing field when the media deals with policy matters and facts.
Villa Rica GA
June 25, 2009