Thursday, June 18, 2009

Letter From the Editor: New Blow to the Right as Sex Scandal Takes Down Ensign

Nevada Senator -- a Darling of Social Conservatives -- Resigns GOP Leadership Post After Admitting He Had an Extramarital Affair; Latest Sex Scandal to Rock Republicans Is Making Mincemeat Out of Social Conservatives' Holier-Than-Thou Moralism

Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) speaks at a news conference Tuesday in Las Vegas.

Another one bites the dust: Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada) speaks to reporters in Las Vegas Wednesday after announcing that he was resigning from his post as head of the Republican Policy Committee. On Tuesday, Ensign stunned his Republican colleagues by admitting that he had an affair with a former staffer in his 2006 re-election campaign -- whose husband works in the Senator's Nevada office. (Photo: Isaac Brekken/AP)

(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Thursday, June 18, 2009)


When the news broke on Tuesday that Senator John Ensign (R-Nevada), a conservative "poster boy" for the Religious Right, had admitted to having an extramarital affair, the first thing that popped up in my mind was the chorus to Queen's 1980 hit, "Another One Bites the Dust:"

(Boom, boom, boom) Another one bites the dust (Slap!),
(Boom, boom, boom) Another one bites the dust (Slap!).

And another one gone,
And another one gone
And another one bites the dust (Slap!).

Hey, they're gonna getcha, too,
Another one bites the dust! (Slap!)

The song certainly fits the Republicans -- especially those Republicans who have made names for themselves as guardians of public morality. Darlings of the Religious Right, these Republicans have built their careers on opposing pornography, abortion, same-gender marriage and (incomprehensible to this writer) stem-cell research.

Yet, one by one, these high-and-mighty moralists seem to have a problem with practicing what they preach -- especially in matters pertaining to their own sex lives. They've developed a rather nasty habit of preaching one thing and doing the exact opposite. To say that these men are hypocrites would be an understatement.


Already, Ensign’s political career crashed and burned Wednesday as he announced his resignation from the chairmanship of the GOP Policy Committee. Republican leaders on Capitol Hill and elsewhere almost immediately began to distance themselves from the Nevada senator, amid growing fears that even more damaging details about the scandal are about to be made public.

Ensign on Tuesday admitted that he carried on an affair with Cynthia Hampton, who worked on Ensign's 2006 re-election campaign, from December 2007 to August of last year. Her husband, Douglas Hampton, was a member of Ensign's Senate office staff at his Nevada office.

Both resigned last spring, but the circumstances of the Hamptons' departures -- and why Ensign decided now to come clean over his affair -- remain the subject of speculation.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that the Hamptons, through their attorney, complained bitterly that Ensign chose to make the affair public now -- 10 months after it ended.

"It is unfortunate the senator chose to air this very personal matter, especially after the Hamptons did everything possible to keep this matter private," attorney Daniel Albregts said in a statement released to the media in Las Vegas. "It is equally unfortunate that he did so without concern for the effect such an announcement would have on the Hampton family."

Albregts said that the Hamptons will eventually "tell their side of the story."

Hampton might not be the only person with whom Ensign had an affair. The AP, citing a source close to the senator, also reported that Ensign abruptly dropped from public view for two weeks in 2002 to deal with "a personal family matter." That "matter" may have been an extramarital relationship between the senator and another former aide. A spokesperson for Ensign strongly denied the report.


L'Affaire Ensign is only the latest in a series of sex scandals that have rocked the GOP since 2004. It's been almost two years since we witnessed the spectacular fall from grace of Larry Craig, a conservative Republican senator from Idaho, who got busted for soliciting sex with an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at the Minneapolis Airport.

Craig insisted that "I am not gay," yet Craig -- who made a name for himself as one of the most staunchly anti-gay members of the Senate -- pleaded guilty to a charge of "disorderly conduct" in connection with a police sting operation aimed at busting men who solicit sex with other men in a public place.

Then there's the pedophilia scandal in 2006 of disgraced former Representative Mark Foley of Florida, a Republican who co-authored a law aimed at shielding children from sexual predators on the Internet, but was caught sending sexually explicit text messages to teenage Capitol Hill pages. And a former page told the Los Angeles Times that he had a sexual encounter with Foley.

At the same time, another conservative Republican, Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, was forced to admit that he patronized a business operated by Deborah Jeane Palfrey that was busted by the FBI as a prostitution ring. Palfrey became known as the "D.C. Madam."

Vitter's telephone number was found among the telephone records of Palfrey's company, Pamela Martin and Associates, dating back to Vitter's days as a member of the House of Representatives.

Ironically, Vitter was elected to the House in a special election in 1999 to replace yet another conservative Republican, Bob Livingston, who resigned amid -- you guessed it -- a sex scandal. Vitter won't face charges in the "D.C. Madam" case, however, because the statute of limitations to prosecute him has expired.


The Ensign scandal comes at a particularly bad time for the Republicans, who have seen their membership decline dramatically to barely 20 percent of the nationwide electorate and their job-approval ratings in Congress at an anemic 36 percent, according to the latest Gallup Poll, although that's an improvement from their record-low 25 percent job-approval rating in December.

It is a particularly nasty headache for Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R- Kentucky) -- the third sex scandal to take down a fellow Republican in the 2 1/2 years since McConnell was elected to the leadership post.

As chairman of the GOP's Policy Committee, Ensign was quickly emerging as a major player in opposition to the policy agenda of the Obama administration. The Nevada senator was the subject of speculation that he was mulling over a possible run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012.

A staunch social conservative, Ensign -- who voted in favor of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act -- spoke on the Senate floor in 2004 in favor of the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would have barred states from recognizing same-gender marriage (The amendment failed to muster the two-thirds majority required for passage).

Ensign is an outspoken opponent of abortion. Both the National Right to Life Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America identify him as having a "pro-life" voting record. Yet Ensign opposed the Prevention First Act, co-authored by Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada), which aimed to reduce the number of abortions by preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place, chiefly through improving information about and access to family planning.


That these sex scandals have been, one by one, bringing down social conservatives also lays waste to their credibility as guardians of the public morals. Part of the reason is that the social conservatives -- both inside and outside the GOP -- set unrealistically high standards for themselves and for others that are almost impossible to keep up with, because they defy human nature.

And it's not limited to conservative politicians. Prominent members of the Christian Right have also been taken down by sex scandals. Who can forget Jimmy Swaggart's tearful confession to God ("I have sinned against you!") on national television after he was caught consorting with prostitutes?

Who can forget Ted Haggard caught in flagrante delicto with a male hustler and drug addict?

Even the late Jim Bakker -- whose day of infamy was a financial scandal that brought down his multi-million-dollar PTL Club -- was rumored to have had homosexual liaisons while in prison.

The more that the social conservatives stubbornly cling to those impossibly high moral standards, the more its members are likely to fail -- not to mention suffer recriminations from their own kind when they do fail.

To err is human. To forgive is Divine.

Skeeter Sanders
Editor & Publisher
The'Skeeter Bites Report

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Volume IV, Number 48
Copyright 2009, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.


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