Moral Relativism

Ken AshfordRepublicans, Sex ScandalsLeave a Comment

The "family values" people of the right are always fond of saying how important morality is, how strong they are on morality, etc.  Mostly, they extol the virtures (which they and apparently only they possess) of moral absolutism and castigate them libruls who exhibit moral relativism.

Fair enough.  Whatever.  So I was processing that, and processing the recent GOP sex scandals involving Republican Senators.  Here’s the breakdown, as I see it:

"Pro-Family" Political Agenda

Sen. Craig:  Yes
Sen. Vitter:  Yes

Desired Sex Outside of Marriage?

Sen. Craig:  Yes
Sen. Vitter:  Yes

Actively Sought Sex Outside of Marriage?

Sen. Craig:  Yes
Sen. Vitter:  Yes

Type of Sex Sought Outside of Marriage?

Sen. Craig:  Gay
Sen. Vitter:  Straight

Willing to Pay Money for Sex Outside of Marriage?

Sen. Craig:  No
Sen. Vitter:  Yes

Strategy To Obtain Sex Outside of Marriage

Sen. Craig:  Tapped foot in public restroom hoping other person would respond
Sen. Vitter:  Used cell phone on the floor of the Senate to call "D.C. Madam" to arrange for liasons

Sexual Liason Accomplished?

Sen. Craig:  No (not, at least, this time)
Sen. Vitter:  Several times that we know of

Illegality Commited?

Sen. Craig:  Debateable
Sen. Vitter:  Without question

Charged with crime?

Sen. Craig:  Yes
Sen. Vitter:  No

Sexual Predilections

Sen. Craig:  Anonymous gay sex in public restrooms
Sen. Vitter:  Straight sex with hookers whose name he knows, while wearing diapers


Reaction from GOP collegaues

Sen. Craig:  Repeated calls for his resignation
Sen. Vitter:  Praise and applause

Can any explain to me the moral roadmap that leads to a total pass for Vitter, yet a total moral condemnation for Craig?

UPDATE:  Ross Douthat of The Atlantic asks the same question.  He suspects the "gay" factpr of the Craig scandal is what tips the scales….

I understand that there’s a difference, legally-speaking, between pleading guilty to a criminal offense and tacitly confessing to a crime you haven’t – and probably won’t – be charged with, but I still think it’s unfortunate that Larry Craig might be forced to resign by his fellow Republicans, while David Vitter has apparently survived being outed as a client of a major D.C. prostitution ring. I agree with Megan that what Craig did was arguably a greater betrayal of his wife than what Vitter may have done, but from any social-conservative calculus (or at least my social-conservative calculus) prostitution has to be considered a greater social evil than cruising for gay sex in bathrooms. This relates to a point I fumbled through in my conversation with Mark yesterday – the unfortunate extent to which socially-conservative politicians have focused their fire on gays, because opposing gay rights was for a long time an 80-20 issue for the Right (though no longer), while studiously ignoring the various beams in heterosexuals’ eyes. It’s a hard pattern to break, but the GOP could find worse places to start than making sure that Vitter shares whatever political fate awaits Larry Craig.

Interestingly, Romesh Ponneru at The Corner, an uber-social conservative himself, all but admits that there is no morality map to speak of here.  It’s mostly about politics, rather than principle.

I agree with Ross Douthat’s larger point about social conservatives’ double standards on sexual conduct, but I think he’s missing the reasons that the senators are provoking different reactions from their colleagues. I can think of four considerations that have to be going through the minds of Republican senators. First, the fact that Craig is (currently) denying he did anything wrong creates more opportunities for continuing bad press than Vitter can get. Second, the two senators are in different political circumstances. Craig is up for re-election next year and has a Republican governor; Vitter has a Democratic governor and isn’t up for re-election until 2010. Third, even if both states applied moral standards consistently, Idaho’s would probably end up being tougher than Louisiana’s. Fourth—and I think this may be the most important—Craig’s colleagues probably think that his compulsion is so strong that he may well act up again. He was on notice, after all, when he went to the airport bathroom. I don’t think they’re as worried that Vitter will be frequenting prostitutes.