Selwyn Duke
Mark Sanford and the left's Romper Room commentary
By Selwyn Duke
July 7, 2009

There is probably nothing that pleases our libertine left more than a social conservative's fall from grace. Just witness the predictable feeding frenzy that ensued when South Carolina governor Mark Sanford confessed to marital infidelity. Why, so voracious are his critics that a Google search for Sanford's name in parentheses and the word "hypocrite" yields 20,600 of their pages.

For many reasons, not the least of which was the governor's condemnation of Bill Clinton's serial adultery in the 1990s, the left has put him in a glass house the size of the Crystal Cathedral. And, in all fairness, Sanford should be taken to task. We all have a duty to hold our leaders to the highest standards, and I'll be the first to say that if a politician — regardless of party or passions — cannot uphold sterling moral and ethical standards, he needs to go. Yet would the left join me in this? Would they say, "You know what, you're right; we can't subordinate virtue to political expediency"? Not going to happen, not with this childish bunch.

On the contrary, whether it's Clinton, Barney Frank, Mel Reynolds, John Edwards, Gerry Studds or someone else, liberals tend to circle the wagons around transgressing brothers regardless of the offense. Reynolds, convicted of 12 counts of sexual assault on a 16-year-old, was pardoned by Clinton; Studds, who had an affair with a teenage boy, was re-elected six times by Massachusetts voters. Hey, people in glass houses protect other people in glass houses.

Of course, it's no secret that leftists couldn't care a whit about sexual impropriety. How could they? Once you've rubber-stamped homosexual behavior, it follows that everything below it in the hierarchy of sin — which is most things — is also just a "lifestyle choice."

In fairness again, however, not too many leftists try very hard to feign outrage at the violation of marriage vows, which, if they had their way, would be an event in the 2012 Olympics. Rather, the stones they hurl with shot-put gusto pertain to hypocrisy, although it's never explained how such a thing is reckoned wrong in the universe of moral relativism. But how could we expect such philosophical depth, anyway, when leftists can't even understand far simpler things, such as the meaning of hypocrisy?

Sanford could well be a hypocrite, but I doubt it. As I wrote in my piece, "Sanford's and Ensign's Fall from Grace Fuels the Immorality Police":

    I've observed that a great many people who fail to uphold their own ideals, wholeheartedly believe in them at the moment they espouse them; it is that perilous transition between talking and walking where problems occur. To paraphrase Confucius, "It is not that I do not know what to do; it is that I do not do what I know." Was the ancient sage a hypocrite? No, a mortal is more like it.

    Hypocrisy isn't saying one thing while doing another; it's saying one thing while intending to do another. To think otherwise is intellectually sloppy at best, as we are then lumping mortals' weakness and their self-serving deception into the same category. For example, two men tell their children not to drink to excess but then get drunk. However, while one of them planned to hit the bottle all along, the other's counsel was sincere. The problem is that he went to a gathering, had drinks waved under his nose and was seduced by the bottle. Now, call him pathetic if you must. Call him weak. Call him a sorry excuse for a father. But a hypocrite he is not.

Now, I have no stake in Sanford's political fortunes. But I do care about ideas, and I see no evidence of hypocrisy. In fact, I'm not even so sure how much of a hypocrite Clinton is — at least regarding his extra-marital dalliances. I'm content to call him a cad.

Yet there are profound differences between the two men. Note that Sanford offered an unequivocal and apparently heartfelt apology at his teary-eyed press conference. There was no legalistic sleight-of-tongue about what the definition of "is" is, no feigned ingenuousness about what constitutes sex. And these differences are reflected in the behavior of their wives, too.

Sanford's wife, Jenny, asked him to leave their home and wasn't by his side during the news conference. In contrast, that Hillary . . . well, she just takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. But why?

My analysis of the difference is this: While it probably was far from perfect, the Sanfords actually had (and let's hope will have) a real marriage. Jenny Sanford reacted normally, the way many hurt wives would. And it's entirely possible, as M. Sanford has said, that his Argentine escapade was his first full-blown affair. It's even more likely that it was the first time his wife had learned he had "crossed lines."

As for the Clintons, they don't have a marriage.

They have a business arrangement.

In the 1990s, Hillary didn't stand by her man — she stood by her plan. She had hitched her wagon to Bill's star and endured the bumps, jolts and rollovers. Did you really think she was going to cash out after giving Bill her best years and suffering the worst humiliations right when Clinton, Inc. was hitting paydirt? No, sir, not Nicola Machiavelli.

But, since I'm starting to feel like a gossip columnist, I'll move on to deeper issues. That is where the truly childish leftist commentary can be found, anyway.

A good example of such a bad example is a writer named Robert Zimmerman. Billed as a "political analyst," he recently wrote the piece, "Let's leave Mark Sanford's family alone ... as long as he leaves our families alone," and its content is as snide as the title suggests. After opening with an obligatory sentence about how everyone "had to feel extraordinary sympathy for the Governor's wife and family," he immediately transitioned into the irrational, talking about how "family values" politicians' sexual impropriety is dwarfed only by an even greater moral defect. This, supposedly, is traditionalists' divisiveness, fear-mongering, prejudice and, vice of vices, their imposition of values. He writes:

    Throughout their political careers, they have tried to dictate the definition of a moral American and a proper family. They have tried to create laws that restrict a woman's decision about her health and body and have denied personal rights and human dignity to gay and lesbian Americans. These are reflections of the immorality of their movement.

    . . . Now I know that many will bring up the scandals regarding the personal behavior of former President Bill Clinton, former Governor Eliot Spitzer, former Governor Jim McGreevey and former Senator John Edwards. As wrong and destructive as their behaviors were, these men did not try to dictate to us how we should live our lives . . . .

I'm not precisely sure how to rate this commentary, but it hovers somewhere between idiocy and imbecility. First, Zimmerman contradicts himself within the space of two sentences. He scores traditionalists for trying to "dictate the definition of a moral American" but then labels their movement immoral. But how can you make that judgment without deciding upon a definition for a "moral American"? Some may say the difference is that he won't try to "dictate" that definition, but what does this mean? If he insists his conception of morality is correct, how is he different from the absolutists he bemoans? And if he is unsure, that throws his assessment of the traditionalist movement into question, doesn't it?

OK, I get it. The fellow travelers in government he mentions (Edwards, McGreevey, etc.) don't try to legislate their values. Except, if this is true, it's only because those particular gentlemen are no longer in government. Correct me if I'm wrong, but being in government involves the act of governing; this involves controlling, and this is synonymous with telling us "how we should live our lives." Let's define this more precisely.

There is no such thing as a lawmaker who doesn't try to legislate a conception of morality; this is because a law by definition is the imposition of a value. After all, a law states there is something you must or mustn't do, ostensibly because it is, respectively, a moral imperative or morally wrong — or a corollary thereof. If this isn't the case, why prescribe or proscribe it? What would be the point?

Of course, from the relativistic left's perspective, morality doesn't exist and "values" are merely an expression of consensus opinion, which, of course, is synonymous with how most people happen to feel about something at a given time. Thus, implicit in the left's philosophy is the idea that they make laws in order to enforce their preferences. This robs them of all legitimacy.

After all, if I can make the case that I'm legislating elements of Truth, I at least have a claim to moral authority. For then the claim is not that I'm imposing my values but, rather, morals originating outside myself — outside man, in fact — and authored by something superior to him. Yet leftists' implicit claim is that they are merely imposing feelings gussied up as "values"; thus, what they impose certainly is theirs. On what basis, then, should we take their pronouncements seriously? They may scoff at those who would point to God's law when shaping man's, but what alternative do they offer? Should we instead defer to their egos, their base instincts, their illusions? "If it feels good, legislate it" isn't much of a rationale.

Some may say the Zimmermans of the world are being Machiavellian, that their accusations amount to a ploy designed to discredit their opponents' conception of morality. But while this may be true in a few cases, the bulk of them can't be accused of possessing that kind of sophistication. In most cases it's simply that they notice, as anyone would, the imposition of morals alien to them. On the other hand, they swim in their own values as a frog raised in a polluted pond swims in its dirty water: The values are simply the stuff of their natural environment, so leftists feel that nothing is amiss. As C.S. Lewis said about such people, "their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough."

But whether they peddle this fallacy driven by phoniness or foolishness, the result is identical: it serves to stifle substantive debate. And traditionalists could do this, too. We could cite legislation we despise and complain of how the left dictates, controls, and imposes values. We could mention how the left won't let us run our own businesses as we see fit, with their anti-discrimination and anti-smoking laws and other limitations on freedom; or how they won't let us raise children as we desire, with anti-spanking laws and intrusive CPS agencies. "Ah," retorts the left, "But those things are necessary; they stop people from hurting others; they are right!" But that's the rub, isn't it? Traditionalists don't agree, and just as you leftists are sure of your dogmas, they are sure of theirs. If we weren't sure of them, they wouldn't be called dogmas.

So let's now discuss the difference between a child's literary tantrums and an adult's incisive commentary. The child falls down and pounds the earth, disgorging visceral nonsense about how the other side is a meany who wants to control people's lives. The child then wants to take his ball and go home — or take his opponents' ball away (e.g., Fairness Doctrine). But an adult understands that governing involves imposing, dictating and controlling; it involves legislating a conception of morality. It's simply a matter of what we will impose, dictate and control, of what that conception of morality will be.

This won't be discovered if we entertain childish avoidance maneuvers that stifle the only debate that can determine this, the most important debate there ever could be: What is good? What is Truth? Unless a person is willing to discuss this — maturely, as an adult, without relativistic dodges — he has no more business rendering commentary or writing laws than the boys in Lord of the Flies.

© Selwyn Duke


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