Sex and the Conservative
The culture wars just aren't what they used to be.
Hours before Sen. David Vitter (R-D.C. Madam) emerged from hiding yesterday, the conservative Independent Women's Forum held a "Campus Sex and Dating Conference" in the Rayburn House Office Building. The promotion for the event, hosted by House Minority Leader John Boehner, showed a woman with her eyes closed in a state of ecstasy. Out of her mouth came the words "Attention Interns!" The flier promised an appearance by Dr. Drew Pinsky of MTV fame, followed by a "Fabulous Door Prize."
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This is not your mother's conservative movement.
Perhaps it was inevitable at a time when the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination supports legal abortion and gay rights and has on numerous occasions dressed up as a woman. Whatever the reason, social conservatives appear unusually permissive these days.
Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, admitted last week that his number was in the phone records of the "D.C. Madam," who has been accused by the Justice Department of running a prostitution ring, and apologized for his "very serious sin." After a week in hiding -- and only muted criticism from conservatives -- Vitter emerged yesterday in a Louisiana hotel with a statement more defiant than contrite.
"Unfortunately, my admission has encouraged some longtime political enemies and those hoping to profit from the situation to spread falsehoods," he said after an opening apology. "I'm not going to answer endless questions about it all over again and again and again and again," he added. "I'll be helping finalize a crucial water-resources bill to provide much better hurricane and flood protection."
The senator's wife stood at his side, and then took over the microphone. "I stand before you to tell you very proudly: I am proud to be Wendy Vitter," she said, scolding the media for stalking Vitter since he disappeared from view a week ago. "I would ask you very respectfully to let us continue our summer and our lives as we had planned."
Then there was Pinsky, who stood behind a weathered House lectern yesterday in the Rayburn building with a blue curtain behind him and an American flag at his left elbow. He asked the audience of mostly Hill interns what they thought was the most frequent question he got from men.
A young woman in a pink blouse and black jacket guessed: Genital size?
The sex expert concurred: "Young men tend to be calling about adequacy," such as "Do I last long enough?" Women, he said, ask things such as "Why is he so into lesbians?"
The presentation was, perhaps, a bit on the edge for a group that was formed in response to the Clarence Thomas confirmation battle and lists Lynne Cheney as a former director. On the other hand, it's not likely the Independent Women's Forum would have lured more than 50 young interns to an "abstinence-only" session.
The conservative National Review several years ago described Pinsky, host of the radio show "Loveline," as a "hip cultural warrior" who delivers family values in a stealthy package. But Pinsky is an imperfect spokesman for the religious right; he once gave out free condoms as a promotion for his Web site. "I have no agenda," he announced as the interns munched on cookies and a bell rang announcing that the House was in session.
Introducing Pinsky, the IWF's Alison Kasic lamented that campus romance "is more likely to resemble a spring-break Cancun hookup than a candlelight dinner with flowers." Pinsky agreed with that notion, and firmly established that the casual "hookup" is inferior to dating and commitment.
But this wasn't the usual sermon. "By the way, sometimes it's just fun," Pinsky said of youthful sex. "I'm not saying, 'Oh, my God, we have to have a funeral march.' Sometimes it's fun. It's not a bad thing."
As the interns questioned him, he also allowed that "delaying marriage, statistically, is a good thing. If it's the hookup that's delaying marriage, maybe it's not such a bad outcome."
Pinsky spoke playfully with his young audience about "beer goggles," praised the stability of lesbian relationships and referred to the "juice 'em up and go" strategy of young men getting women drunk before sex. Turning to drug use, Pinsky asserted that, as a matter of health, marijuana "is certainly no worse than alcohol and cigarettes and maybe better."
If this is a cultural warrior, a truce may be imminent.