Saturday, October 17, 2009

Bonanza Column 155 – John Ensign Should Resign, but He Probably Won’t

The "religious right" is neither. Rather, we have seen case after case of people who publicly espouse strict religious/moral/family values while privately doing whatever they want to. This crosses party lines – John Edwards is as egregious an example as Mark Sanford – and it crosses gender preference boundaries – from Mark Foley and Larry Craig to John Ensign.

If you look into this, though, something far more sinister may be afoot. I'm no fan of conspiracy theories, and generally I think they hold as much water as alien abductions and bigfoot sightings. But I recently read a book called "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet that chilled me to the core.

Sharlet is a writer for Vanity Fair and set out to investigate the pervasiveness of the so-called religious right in American politics. He joined a group called "the Family" that has almost a 100-year history in the US, and is in a line of heritage that goes back almost to the revolution. This particular iteration was founded by a Norwegian immigrant pastor who had an epiphany – he decided that mainstream Christianity had it backwards – Jesus' message was not to take care of the downtrodden, but the "uptrodden." Those at the top were put in command by God and we should listen and obey them. (This has not translated into any great outpouring of support for Obama however – apparently God makes mistakes).

The family owns "the house on C Street," where a group of US Senators and Congressmen live together, professing deep Christian faith and morality, and at the same time either engaging in their own and covering up others' extramarital affairs. The former group included our own John Ensign and the now-laughingstock Mark Sanford of South Carolina. To compound the hypocrisy, both have repeatedly refused to resign, even though both called on President Clinton to resign when he got caught in his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Ensign, to the time of this writing, continues to take refuge in legalism, saying "I have done nothing legally wrong." OK, how about ethically? How do you square having an affair with a staffer, using political influence to try to get her cuckolded husband a lobbying job (though legally he can't take such a job until he is off the government payroll for a year), having Ma and Pa Ensign pay almost $100,000 to the couple, presumably to keep them quiet, and the list goes on.

Well, the Family knows how to square it. Men in power are answerable to no one. They were put there by God, and have no accountability except to themselves. Not even to each other. After he was confronted by some of his C Street comrades, Ensign wrote a letter to the woman cutting off the affair and was marched down to Fedex to send it. The next day he called her and told her to ignore the letter, so apparently it's OK to lie to your Family brothers as well as to the rest of us.

When are we as a nation and as voters going to get it? Holier-than-thou types have a very high probability of being hypocrites. I'm not saying all religious people are phonies – far from it – but public officials who loudly and self-righteously proclaim their "faith" seem to keep coming up lousy. There is a reason that the founders went to great lengths to separate church and state, and this is a prime example of it. I'm not condemning them for having "strayed" – the best of us have fallen prey to that – it's being so very sanctimonious about others when they stray and acting as though you have no accountability to anyone. Wasn't it He whom they claim to worship who said "why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother's eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye?"

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