Weiner to Spitzer to chance?
Not hardly. As the boys of summer gear up for the playoffs, these dodgers are leaving nothing to chance. They’re not even taking for granted an electorate increasingly accepting of immorality — from prostitution to prevarication.
And they’re counting on the fact that we’re more and more a nation of addicts in continual recovery and relapse, predisposed to embracing any redemption narrative offered by anyone — especially someone exhibiting what used to be called devilish behaviors.
That’s why, to hear Weiner and Spitzer tell it, they’ve been to hell and back. They’ve searched their souls, wrestled like Jacob with the angel, and taken full ownership of their transgressions. And now they’ve gone beyond contrition to penance — sacrificially binding themselves with a lifelong vow: to climb back up the ladder of political success for the good of us all.
I get misty just thinking about it.
Of course, they could rest on the laurels of their past achievements, or serve their fellow man in lower-profile venues — and they’d do it in a New York minute — but their consciences compel them to take the road less travelled, refusing to let their high-profile constituents suffer under the leadership of lesser men because of a few errors of judgment in their private lives.
The sad truth is, even the painful drip-drip-drip of the ongoing Weiner revelations might not compound the loss of his credibility. In fact, if he stays in the race, his persistence may end up helping him because credibility is less and less an issue in post-modern American politics. The most important issue today is name recognition. In our amoral celebrity culture, the candidate with the most ink, the most sound bites, the most commercials, and the most internet traffic is most likely to win.
Which raises the question, could we possibly set the bar any lower for our leaders than we already have?
Of course we can. As impressive as president Clinton’s contribution to bar lowering has been, and as astounding as his rehab journey was — from impeached perjurer and disgraced adulterer to superstar ex-president and Father Of The Year in little more than a decade — I’m confident that we can still do worse.
We’ve got politicians waiting in the wings whose stories would make Eros and Narcissus blush, and who could probably cut Clinton’s timeline in half.
Former Senator Johnny Reid Edwards, for example.
To his credit — or perhaps to the credit of Democratic party operatives who restrained him — he eschewed the political spotlight after the ugly and protracted drama which began with a covert affair with a staffer, Rielle Hunter, during his 2007 campaign for the presidency.
When the affair was discovered, Edwards denied it, then fathered a child with Hunter as his own wife was dying of cancer. He denied that publicly as well, then was forced to admit to the affair but continued to deny his paternity — even after the National Enquirer released photos of him with his mistress and their baby daughter — and in 2010 was finally forced to issue a statement conceding that he was the father and saying “I’m sorry.”
There may still be a few neo-Puritans like myself who see this satyric saga — and the fact that he also narrowly escaped a thirty-year prison sentence for six felony charges of violating campaign finance laws — as disqualifying Edwards from re-seeking the public trust, but I won’t be surprised if the vast majority of Democrats and most independents see it differently.
I know John Edwards certainly does. He quietly reactivated his law license in May, and recently tested the political waters with a speech in Orlando, Florida.
Could this be the first mea culpa on a Clinton-style “forgiveness tour,” building support for Edwards’ re-installment in the progressive politburo, one crocodile tear at a time?
Why not? He’s got all the gifts: rhetorical power, rags-to-riches credibility, and a telegenic presence. Most important, he’s got a new, aggressively secular Democratic party that’s fundamentally contemptuous of the idea of letting standards of personal morality impact any political calculus.
Progressives today believe only in “public morality,” i.e. the government’s “compassionate” redistribution of wealth to core Democratic voting constituencies: the poor, the working poor, and unionized employees.
And that jibes perfectly with Edwards’ lexiconic legacy: his coining of the catchphrase “the two Americas.”
To Edwards and the Democrats it means the “haves and have nots.” To Republicans it means “the makers and the takers.”
But to religious conservatives, it has an historical meaning, with the scandals of Clinton, Edwards, Spitzer and Weiner being simply the latest evidence of a chasm that has been widening for half a century.
It’s the difference between a nonsectarian America that was once guided by the Judeo-Christian ethic, and the profane America of today that’s hostile toward religion, non-judgmental toward morality, and whose god is government.
The problem is that more and more voters — especially young ones — see the chasm widening between those two Americas and, increasingly, don’t seem to care.
And that’s the real scandal.
Timothy Philen is the author of You CAN Run Away From It! a satirical indictment of American pop psychology. He is currently at work on a latter-day “Walden,” a collection of essays on post-modern American culture.