John Ensign, junior senator from Nevada, has been in the news recently for having had an affair with Cynthia Hampton, a campaign staffer who is the wife of a top aide.
Personally, I don't think that politician's private lives should affect their political careers. My feeling has always been that "Don't ask don't tell" should be "Ask or tell if you want but it makes no difference either way" -- for both gays and straights, for both marrieds and singles, and for both the military and the legislature.
Marriage is a difficult proposition. Most of us get married because we've always had the vague sense that's what we're supposed to do at a certain age, and that it's the right thing to do if we want children. Sixty percent of married people stray at some point during their married lives. It's just human nature to get bored and seek excitement elsewhere. Should sixty percent of the populace be disqualified from public office because they stray? (The type of ambitious people who are personable enough to get elected in the first place probably stray at an even higher rate.)
Of course, only a small percentage get caught. But should political success be based on one's skill at evading detection?
And who know what goes on in someone else's marriage? Whether or not a married person strays is really none of our business any more than how often a married couple has sex, or what kinks they enjoy. Maybe one of the spouses is unable, or unwilling, to satisfy the other. Should the willing spouse then be condemned to a life of celibacy?
The point is, it's not our business.
Unless someone is incredibly, publicly, hypocritical about it.
What galls most people about Ensign's affair is not that he had it, but that he was so self-righteously vindictive about others' affairs.
Despite what liberals like to say, Clinton's impeachment was about perjury, not about his having had an affair. (Under a system of "ask if you want, tell if you want, but it makes no difference" Clinton would never have had to perjure himself in the first place -- although knowing him, he might have anyway.) But Ensign evidently castigated Clinton for merely having had the affair, and said he should resign because of it.
Larry Craig's transgression was not just about extramarital sex, it was about soliciting sex in a men's room, which is evidently against the law. Ensign suggested that he, too, should resign, merely for having strayed.
In 2004, Ensign, while arguing against gay marriage, stated, "Marriage is the cornerstone on which our society was founded....Marriage, and the sanctity of that institution, predates the American Constitution and the founding of our nation."
All of which makes him less than an ardent advocate for extramarital nookie.
On top of which, Ensign's own transgression wasn't exactly a run of the mill affair. He had an affair with a campaign staffer, who was the wife of a trusted (and trusting) subordinate, which is, no matter how you cut it, ugly. And he used his office to get raises for each of them, an obvious conflict of interest. (I'm surprised that angle hasn't been played up more.)
All of which in turn makes him a despicable hypocrite who is unfit for public office.
The Nevada electorate will undoubtedly agree come 2012.
It's always gratifying to see a hypocrite exposed. (How very preferable that in this case, what happened in Vegas didn't stay in Vegas.)