Politics and the concept of original sin, or massa damnata, are two topics the main stream media rarely discuss side by side, but perhaps they should, considering all the political fallout over Herman Cain’s alleged sexual impropriety, not to mention Newt Gingrich’s past scandals involving two ex-wives.
The question before citizens is, “Do we have a right to hold elected officials to a high moral standard?” Herman Cain’s attorney and spokesman, Lin Wood, disputes the public’s obligation to criticize elected officials in his recent statement:
"This is not an accusation of harassment in the workplace — this is not an accusation of an assault — which are subject matters of legitimate inquiry to a political candidate. Rather, this appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults — a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life. The public’s right to know and the media’s right to report has boundaries and most certainly those boundaries end outside of one’s bedroom door."
Setting aside the allegations of sexual harassment, is Wood correct in asserting that the public has no right to question a candidate’s marital fidelity? The left would certainly have us believe so.
During his time as president, Bill Clinton advanced the notion of public versus private morality after having a sexual liaison with a 21-year-old intern in the Oval Office. Ever the “champions of women,” liberal feminists backed the man instead of the woman, arguing Clinton’s behavior was no one’s business, and they dismissed anyone who objected to such an obvious abuse of power (which ruined a young girl’s bright future) as puritanical.
If sexual choices have no bearing on one’s life outside of the bedroom, then we need to stop screening our intelligence community for areas in which they could be blackmailed and employers need to stop screening potential employees’ Facebook pages for embarrassing info.
The Greeks would have agreed with Mr. Wood that adultery is a private affair, but then, they also applied that view to murder and rape. In other words, it was private in that the family was permitted to avenge themselves up to and including the murder of the adulterer. In the Greek world, adultery was a private matter with sometimes stark public consequences. That said, while Cain’s alleged affair was a private matter, it became public when he did.
However, in 1790, George Washington wrote in a letter to his nephew, Steptoe Washington, that, “A good moral character is the first essential in a man.” John Adams, Thomas Jefferson — and even randy ol’ Ben Franklin, who wrote, “Search others for their virtues, thy self for thy vices” — made no distinctions between moral integrity in the public or private sector.
We all make mistakes, but where do we draw the line for public figures? This is the question that Republican voters are working through right now.
As a Christian, I know we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. People who really know me could certainly give you examples of moments when I wasn’t gracious or loving, but acted ugly and thoughtlessly.
George W. Bush admitted to binge drinking and bad choices that led him to abstain from alcohol completely. Similarly, former-Vice President Dick Cheney incurred two DUI’s as a young man. Clearly, these public figures, and I’m sure others, struggle and have had to make changes to obtain high moral character.
To use a Christian phrase, it’s all about “grace and redemption.” As believers, God’s endless goodness and mercy offer freedom from the destruction caused by our immoral choices, whether they’re made in private or in the open. God doesn’t discriminate between our public lives and our private lives, because He looks at the whole person. And, admittedly, we can’t see someone’s heart.
Essential in forgiveness, however, is true repentance. Newt Gingrich has publicly admitted to his own moral failures and spoken openly about seeking God’s forgiveness, as did John McCain in relation to the failure of his first marriage.
There is honor in being transparent and honest about one’s past mistakes. However, while God forgives us, there are still consequences for our choices here on this earth. Families are destroyed by infidelity, and sometimes they can be repaired, but often they can’t. Wounds heal, but scars are left behind.
Former President Harry S. Truman famously said, “If a man lies to his wife, he will lie to me. And if he’ll break his oath of marriage, he’ll break his oath of office.” Republican voters — and particularly women — in America are struggling with trust in our presidential candidates. We see the connection between private morality and public morality. But beyond his or her fidelity to conservative ideology, what else do we deserve?
Of course, America deserves a president who will be faithful to our Constitution. That’s a given. Our current president may have a solid family life, but he has destroyed our trust by leading the nation into a crisis and leaving us broken and afraid for our children’s futures. That’s another kind of moral failure.
Come January, the voters will decide in several key states what really matters. In the end, we are the sum total of our beliefs, our choices, and our values.
Yes, even public figures deserve some modicum of privacy. However, when a man or a woman chooses to run for public office, what they do in their private lives suddenly has public consequences. Isn’t the truest test of character what you do when no one is watching? Ultimately, women may be the deciding factor in these races, and speaking as a woman, we still think character counts!
Penny Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America.
Penny Young Nance is president and CEO of Concerned Women for America, the nation’s largest women’s public policy organization. She is the author of the forthcoming book "Feisty and Feminine: A Rallying Cry for Conservative Women" (Zondervan 2016).