It's the Hypocrisy, Stupid
Should Senator Ensign resign in the wake of an affair with a staffer? No.
Is Ensign's career harmed? Yes.
What should be done? Let the voters decide, next election.
Now that we've got that out of the way, on to the more interesting question: Why does the left take such delight in a Republican senator's personal stumbles? (A more dramatic version is now playing out in South Carolina with Gov. Mark Sanford.)
Part of it is just base, crass human nature. People like the mighty to fall -- especially if the stricken is an enemy. If it was only that though, John Edwards and his alleged love child would have been front page news, from sea to shining sea, when the news would have mattered.
But it wasn't.
Republicans are treated differently. Whether they're caught toe-tapping in an airport bathroom or sending dirty messages to interns, Republicans receive far more intense scrutiny for their moral "irregularities."
Unless there's DNA evidence, and even then, a Democrat doesn't even get the attention of the press. Drudge broke the Bill Clinton affair and had to produce a dress. The National Enquirer broke the Edwards affair and had to produce a baby. And still, the fact that the child looks like John Edwards' clone won't convince the hardened skeptics. Oh no.
The mother, that tramp!
She's making it up about the baby's father, even though she is still acting lovestruck. The facts will come out, eventually. They always do.
Contrast the press' studied indifference with their front-page glee over a powerful, but relatively unknown, Republican senator having an affair while separated from his wife. Senator Ensign went public after the woman's husband blackmailed him. Of course, the Ensign case reveals the problem with any public official screwing around -- the threat of blackmail looms large. In the case of national security, government contracts, etc., a politician puts the country in danger when he has an affair.
Still, all that is not what bothers the press or the left in general. Part of it is, in Ensign's case, personal. Consider this from the Washington Post:
Of course, the Post editorial page is none too pleased with Ensign for his trick amendment to the D.C. voting rights bill that would deny the District its right to write gun-control laws. "He claimed his interest was in gun rights, not in blocking democracy for the District," reads today's editorial. "If that were so, he might have simply moved to disallow the District's gun-regulation legislation; he didn't bother to try. More to the point, he would never, in a million years, strip Nevada officials of their right to write local laws or in any other way visit upon them so extreme a sovereignty-stripping measure. But then, what works for Mr. Ensign at any given moment is the only thing that seems to matter."
So part of it is political. But mostly? It's the ... hypocrisy!
The equation goes like this: God Believer + Open About It + Sin + Republican = Hypocrisy.
Now if you're, say, Bill Clinton? God Believer + Open About It + Sin - Republican = Virile.
The only reason John Edwards received more scorn was because his wife had cancer. But worse than that? He could have gotten the Democratic nomination, and had the affair come out after the nomination, it would have meant certain doom! Now that would be unforgivable.
Cheating on your cancer-stricken, campaigning, and vows-renewing wife? Unseemly. Sniff!
Endangering Democratic power? Too horrible to contemplate.
Back to Senator Ensign's indiscretion and the media's decision to make his, and any Republican mistake, front-page news. The reason Senator Ensign makes the front page is not because anyone particularly cares who is doing who -- except it's deliciously salacious, but that's what Jon & Kate are for. No, it's because Republicans campaign on family values.
Because family values matter to conservatives and Republicans, any deviance from said values indicates the greatest sin of all (but only if you're a Republican): hypocrisy.
The moral of the Ensign story, if you're a Democrat, leftist, or mainstream media organization (but that's redundant), is to have no morals. If one has no morals, one can have no shame and can never be a hypocrite. An amoral person can also, without shame, point to other people's failings because they do have morals and inevitably violate them, and so are hypocrites because they believe in right and wrong. And when people who pursue morality do something immoral, well, it should be pointed out that they're wrong and that they're hypocrites.
Isn't being aimless morally convenient?
It gets better. The people with morals do feel shame for violating their morals and often feel compelled to excuse themselves from their positions of influence lest their personal shortcomings taint their professional career. If it's a big enough mistake, the person of influence will resign and spend the rest of his days living in anonymity.