Scandals come and go on Capitol Hill. Every generation of legislators seems to have its own scofflaws, rogues, rou√©s, rakes, and rapscallions prowling the corridors of The People’s House by day while slinking along the darkened streets and back alleys by night, partaking in the city’s more delectable and usually harmless illegalities.
Then again, every once and a while a real criminal like ex-Congressman Duke Cunningham comes along to prove every bad thing the American people believe about their representatives. Cunningham’s conviction on bribery charges – spectacularly unprecedented bribery I might add – was actually the exception to the rule of Capitol Hill shenanigans. Most scandals involve what might be considered minor influence peddling or, even more commonly, sins of the flesh. Wilbur Mills being caught with the Argentinian stripper Fanne Fox, or more recently, salacious emails sent by Mark Foley to underage pages where no crime was committed but the incidents reflected badly on the Congressman’s moral character.
So goes the latest Capitol Hill sex scandal involving Louisiana Senator David Vitter and his use of Madam Palfrey’s escort service for purposes unrelated to constituent work or his position in the Senate. The tawdry details make for rather boring reading. It seems that prior to his Senate run in 2004, Vitter was something of a regular “client” of Palfrey’s business, paying young women $300 to engage in sexual acts. Palfrey herself called the then Congressman at least 5 times during a two year period, twice while roll call votes were underway. The Madam herself explains that she routinely called potential clients back to confirm their identity and satisfy herself that they weren’t law enforcement before setting up appointments.
This was headline news this morning. Meanwhile, the Senate is currently in the midst of debating the Iraq War. The President is being cut off at the knees by his own party on war policy. Earmarks are sneaking back into budget bills that haven’t passed either chamber. Talk of impeachment is being bandied about by Democrats who have yet to pass one major piece of legislation – save funding the war – in more than 7 months.
Al-Qaeda is on the prowl, perhaps even in this country. The earth’s climate is sizzling (or not). The President is defying a Congressional committee with executive privilege. I could go on and on listing issues that have some bearing on the nation’s health and well being or are just huge stories of national and international import.
And yet, David Vitter gets caught with his pants unzipped and a media frenzy erupts. We’re all grownups here. We know that sex sells newspapers and rivets eyeballs to the cable news channels. But in this case, as in any case involving a Republican, the even more delicious scent of hypocrisy is in the water where the sharks are feeding. Vitter’s strained non-apology apology with its references to God and his loving wife mask the fact that the Senator was a prominent exponent of “family values” and saving the “sanctity of marriage”, ostensibly from the ravaging and destructive practice of allowing gays the opportunity to wed.
I will say to my Republican friends that it does no good to whine about double standards. You’re going to have to concede the hypocrisy point to our Democratic friends on this one. If you’re going to lecture people about the sanctity of marriage as it relates to banning gay unions or campaign on a platform stressing “family values,” it would be best if you didn’t go whoring around on your wife, wetting your wick at $300 a pop.
In addition to the rather mysterious Madam Palfrey, another character actor has stepped forward to take on a role so nauseating in its implications for our politics that the question of why the gatekeepers in the press haven’t stepped forward to condemn this man and his tactics is beyond me.
Larry Flynt, smut peddler and avowed Democratic partisan, offered the sum of $1 million for verifiable information about Congressmen visiting whores. This was before Palfrey’s client telephone list was released, but dovetailed nicely with the event when Flynt unearthed Vitter’s phone number from those records and contacted the Congressman on Monday asking about his business with Palfrey.
Flynt, however, is not finished. His $1 million bounty on the sex lives of Congressmen was first offered in an ad he took out in the Washington Post last month. Since then, he has received approximately 20 leads that he is currently following up. He has promised to only publish the names of people who “deserve it” – that is, Congressmen who are “hypocrites.” Since Democrats don’t make a habit of speaking about the sanctity of marriage or even family values, the implication of Flynt’s threats are clear; if you’re a Republican who’s been straying from the straight and narrow with ladies of the evening, it would be best to start thinking of that offer from a supporter to open a law firm back home.
If Flynt is going to be arbiter of public sanctimony, perhaps he should look inward for starters. This is a man whose magazines and videos, promoting gratuitous and consequence-free sex now sits in judgment of people who have simply followed his formulaic lifestyle and engaged in a little slap and tickle with a willing partner. Despite his magazine’s clear message that there’s absolutely no downside to having easy morals, that in fact, it is a preferred way to live one’s life, Flynt is about to lower the boom on people for living up to his own misogynistic credo.
Why should whether they are “hypocrites” matter to him at all? In Flynt’s moral universe, you’re only a hypocrite if you don’t screw anything that moves three times a day. The idea that anyone who visits a prostitute – married or not, spouting allegiance to family values or not – should be held up as an object lesson in sanctimony by the purveyor of a publication that features the most nauseating racist, homophobic, and chauvinistic cartoons while showcasing women in the most degrading way imaginable is beyond funny, beyond satire – is beyond belief.
I may be old fashioned in my view of political combat. Politics is after all a blood sport and not for the squeamish or the thin skinned. But this kind of thing goes so far beyond the normal eye gouging and kidney punching of political brawling that it’s amazing to me no one has stepped up and suggested that a line is being crossed here. The Clinton imbroglio (where Flynt also played a prominent role) was tame compared to this kind of checkbook scandal mongering. Does anyone doubt that if a Democratic Congressman’s peccadilloes were on his list of the “Terrible Twenty” that those sins would be forgiven by Mr. Flynt and the information buried?
If a line indeed has been crossed with Mr. Flynt’s actions, how far behind can a similar GOP operation be? Skeletons in the closets of the high and mighty may make good copy when they come out. But has anyone asked what this does to the way politics is conducted in America?
Certainly not Mr. Flynt, who is laughing all the way to the bank after being given reams of free publicity for his porn empire by an all too willing media who don’t mind feeding on an almost irrelevant scandal while the world catches fire and burns around them.
Rick Moran blogs at Right Wing Nut House.