“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
I don’t know which Members of Congress uttered that phrase last week.
But I bet some did.
They recited that maxim because Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) abruptly resigned from Congress after admitting he had an affair with an aide.
And unbeknownst to me. Or their colleagues. Or their spouses. Or their staff. Or their constituents, some other lawmaker is having an affair. Right this very minute.
I can’t confirm that affair. I can’t break that story like I did last week with my colleague Steve Brown. I have a few suspicions on some. But I’m confident that some lawmaker is committing adultery.
How do I know this?
Because we have representative government.
Yes. Representative government means many things. At its most basic form, it means that the people have a proxy in Washington. Each district and state has someone on Capitol Hill who acts like them and thinks like them. Someone who embodies the nature and nuances of their corner of America. Which is why lawmakers from Los Angeles think differently than those from Maine. Same thing with lawmakers from South Carolina and Utah.
But representative government means something else, too. The people from Los Angeles, Maine, South Carolina and Utah may see the world differently when it comes to issues. But at the end of the day, people are people. Although their politics may vary, human nature doesn’t change. Which is why you have every single personality, work ethic, creed and attitude represented on Capitol Hill.
We have rocket scientists and real dumb-dumbs. Jocks. Cheerleaders. Bookworms. Spelling bee champions. Men of the cloth. Complete hypocrites. Do-gooders and those you shouldn’t trust as far as you can throw them. Generous ones and selfish ones. Loud ones. Bashful ones. Master orators. And those who suffer from stage fright. Clothes horses. And those who dress like hobos. Expert tacticians and absolute bumblers.
And look around at where you work or go to school. You have those same people, too.
Congress is no different.
Several years ago, I interviewed Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) about why some politicians go bad when they get to Washington. He told me that I shouldn’t be surprised when lawmakers go astray. The Vermont Democrat remarked that when he was a prosecutor, he encountered wrongdoing in every walk of life. He prosecuted schoolteachers, members of the clergy and members of the bar. None were immune.
The same is true in Congress.
Which brings us back to the transgressions of Mark Souder.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) had an affair. Gingrich’s hand-picked successor former Rep. Bob Livingston (R-LA) had an affair, which ultimately prevented him from the speakership. Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) had an affair. And that’s to say nothing of the dalliances of former Rep. Vito Fossella (R-NY). Or “tickle fights” involving former Rep. Eric Massa (D-NY). Or episodes surrounding former Sens. John Edwards (D-NC), David Vitter (R-LA) and Larry Craig (R-ID). And I haven’t even started on the non-Members of Congress like President Clinton, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (D) and former South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R-SC).
Sounds like a lot of politicians, right?
But is it any different than the number of affairs going on at your office? Indiscretions at your church or country club? How about in your neighborhood?
The people in Washington represent you. So why would you expect them to be much different?
I know. Because they’re elected officials. We hold them to a higher standard.
And there’s something to be said for that.
Which is why affairs are different when they involve elected officials.
In a democracy, people vote to choose the best person to represent them.
I’m certain there was chatter in a monarchy when someone from the royal family had an affair. But that’s just sort of the way it is when you live under the crown. People don’t have a say. And one would probably expect the king or queen to fool around without consequences. That’s the benefit of being an absolute ruler.
It’s different in a democracy. And lawmakers know that if they’re caught, they could face repercussions at the ballot box.
See Souder, Mark.
Or they may run afoul of their own values which they’ve propounded to get them elected.
See Souder, Mark. Sanford, Mark. Gingrich, Newt.
Or they might not just look like they’re telling the truth.
See Clinton, Bill. Spitzer, Eliot. Fossella, Vito. Edwards, John.
Or, the situation is just too icky.
See Souder, Mark. Fossella, Vito. Craig, Larry. Massa, Eric.
The problem in these cases is that the politicians violated the public trust. They didn’t have their hand in the till. They weren’t on the take from Jack Abramoff. But they were involved in something that just stunk to high heaven.
With Fossella, it was discovered that he just didn’t drive drunk. But that the married father of three had a child with another woman in suburban Washington, DC. In Craig’s case, it was the tape of the senator discussing the nuances of his “wide-stance” with a police officer. In the Massa ordeal, it was “tickle fights.” For Souder, it was the fact that he produced a video, promoting abstinence. And that the former Congressman’s paramour appeared in the video with him.
For the record, Souder told an Indiana newspaper over the weekend he would not discuss whether the two had sex.
Americans expect more from those they elect. Even if they don’t always do the best themselves.
Souder’s demise came just days before the death of former Rep. Buz Lukens (R-OH). Lukens political unraveling was pivotal in launching the Congressional career of House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).
In February, 1989, a Columbus, OH, TV station recorded Lukens meeting with Anna Coffman at a McDonald’s. Lukens was trying to arrange a state job for Anna. During the conversation, Lukens spoke of having sex with Coffman’s 16-year-old daughter Rosie. A court later convicted Lukens of contributing the delinquency of a minor. Lukens then squared off in a three-way primary that featured a former Congressman as well as Boehner, who was then a state representative.
Boehner won the primary and general election. He’s been in Congress ever since.
At the time of the Lukens’ scandal, people asked how the Congressman could get himself into such a fix? Let alone be caught on-camera trying to buy off the girl’s mother? On-camera?
It’s the same way Souder recorded a video, preaching the virtues of abstinence with his mistress.
They’re politicians. They’re human. And they make mistakes. Big ones.
Other scandals lurk out there in Congress. Stuff like this is just going to happen when you assemble 535 people. Perhaps Souder’s fall persuaded some to mend their ways. A few sought counseling. Others leaned on friends or turned to prayer.
But not everyone.
After all, we have representative government.