This is not about Senators Craig, Vitter or Stevens. It’s not about (ex-)Congressman Mark Foley or soon-to-be indicted Congressman Rick Renzi. It’s not about South Carolina’s Thomas Ravenel or Ohio’s Bob Allen. It’s not even about Alberto Gonzales. It’s about hubris: the pride which goeth before a fall.
When George W. Bush ran against Bill Clinton’s stand-in in 2000, he promised to “restore honor and integrity to the Oval Office” a barely veiled reference to Clinton’s Oval Office tryst with Monica Lewinski. But his code for moral rectitude was supposed to mean something more than a pledge not to seduce White House interns—he really was promising Americans that the party of values—the Republicans—would reflect the small town values of “fly-over country” the vast continental space between the Northeast and the Southwest. Those values would include faith, honesty, morality, and decency, which he claimed was lacking in the technocratically efficient but morally challenged Clinton administration.
Never mind that the prominent Republican leaders at the end of the century, like Gingrich and Livingston, had their own moral challenges, he got enough people to believe him to provide a near-win in the electoral college, and, well, you know the rest. The fact is, George Bush became President on a platform that was domestic and moral in nature. He re-captured the victory in 2004 with a platform smeared with fear and lies. “Honor and integrity” had not survived his first two years, and yet, somehow, he projected an image of small town American values that resonated with enough people to give him four more years. The only problem is, that small town turned out to be Fairview, and the Republicans lived on Wisteria Lane, where all manner of debauchery reigned.
But that’s what happens when politicians claim that a party represents moral superiority. They forget that we are all human, we are all in thrall to our own demons, and nobody can lay claim to the righteousness of moral purity. Republicans led the charge against gay and lesbian people, while the Vice-President’s own gay daughter was in a very public relationship. Republicans demanded that teens be taught sexual abstinence outside of marriage, while young pages were propositioned by a House leader. Republicans frequented prostitutes (gay and straight), got bribed, perjured themselves before Congressional committees, and snorted cocaine at wild parties. In other words, they acted like other people do. They did not have a corner on moral purity after all.
They are blaming their run of bad news on a bigoted press, out to stage a Democratic coup d’état. It is not the press, but the American people who are a snarling mob, looking for somebody to lynch. The American people, the majority of whom are honest enough to admit that they, too, are sinful, are no longer willing to believe that one party represents righteousness and the other depravity. They want somebody who can run the country, effectively and efficiently. If he or she has some skeletons rattling around, that’s of little consequence. They want a technocrat, not a theocrat; efficiency not hubris.
It’s the end of an age.