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Judgment Calls From the Glass Houses

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

Have you noticed the overtone of glee in some of the media commentary about South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford's confession of an extramarital affair with a woman in Argentina? The merriment is unbecoming, and it is based on a virtue that many of the gleeful themselves don't possess.

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Sanford, to be sure, probably brought the house down on himself with his holier-than-thou stances on the behavior of others, most notably that of Bill Clinton and Republican House Speaker-designate Bob Livingston.

In Clinton's case, then-GOP House member Sanford called for the Democratic president's resignation and voted for his impeachment, pointing to the need to restore "moral legitimacy."

Sanford also came down hard on Livingston, who was forced to step down after Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt nearly outed him as an adulterer in 1998.

"The bottom line," intoned Sanford, "is that Livingston lied. He lied to his wife."

"We as a party," Sanford told the Associated Press then, "want to hold ourselves to high standards, period." Talk about setting yourself up.

Until this week, Sanford was riding high with folks on the right as one of the sharpest critics of President Obama's stimulus package. He was a go-to guy for Fox News. So it should come as no surprise that his fooling around in Argentina and his convoluted misrepresentations have brought on tons of ridicule from the left.

Still, there is something unseemly about having fun over another person's failings.

Some of the same yukking it up was heard a week ago when GOP Sen. John Ensign of Nevada disclosed his affair with the wife of a former staffer. Before that, the media had a ball with the news that the prostitution-fighting New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer had a thing for high-priced call girls.

Media laughter went on for weeks over former Idaho Republican senator Larry Craig's encounter with an undercover cop in a Minneapolis airport restroom.

And the list goes on: Louisiana GOP Sen. David Vitter's dalliance with a lady of the evening; former New Jersey Democratic governor Jim McGreevey's disclosure of an extramarital relationship with a man; John Edwards's affair with a campaign aide. A good time was had by scribes and talking heads paid to write and yak about such goings-on.

Oh, I'm familiar with the arguments for giving attention to dalliances by prominent politicians: that the politicians betray the public's trust when they indulge in scandalous behavior; that if they break marriage vows, they may also break laws they swear to uphold; that when they don't live up to the high standards they profess to hold, they fall short of the role models they should be.

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