Staking Out The Moral High Ground?

“Fourth District’s Tea Party majority seems to ignore that DesJarlais is forever in the swamp”

Please note: This article was published in the August 20, 2014 issue of the Lawrence County Advocate

My husband and I recently had a discussion. It’s probably one that many readers have had with their significant others, family, or friends at some point or another involving hypotheticals and opinions.

He asked me if I thought someone’s public behavior were necessarily affected if that person had questionable moral character. In other words, he wanted to know if I thought someone with a track record of cheating on and/or lying to his or her spouse could be trusted to make sound judgments as an elected official.

“You mean Bill Clinton, right?” I asked him, weary already of this subject. “Well, if you’re going to throw him in why not include JFK, Franklin Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson? Can you honestly say that their transgressions hurt their performances in office?” I knew I had him. These former presidents are highly regarded, according to historians, their records mostly beyond reproach. Even Bill Clinton’s tenure in office has withstood the test of public opinion after his indiscretion with a White House intern, especially with a robust economy and huge budget surplus to cap off his term.

My husband was struggling with the notion. He said he did not trust someone in office who had betrayed his family, though he realized great presidents had done this very thing. Deeper into the discussion, I realized he was troubled about the results of the Fourth District primary in Tennessee. He could not believe that Scott DesJarlais’ voters gave him a shot for a third term in office. This is one politician whose supporters baffle me as well.

With a nod to religion, the far right wing of the Republican party often calls the high ground, portraying themselves and their candidates as morally superior. After all, a party that supports gay marriage and Roe vs. Wade must be standing on the shifting sand of morality, so the thinking goes. Yet, even moderate Republicans are being whacked with the bat of their shrill rhetoric. Lamar Alexander, a reasonable and traditional Republican with a track record for leadership in this state and in the nation and world, lost in Maury County simply because the local Tea Party labeled him as gun-hating, Obama-loving sinner.

Republican Scott DeJarlais’ indiscretions are public record. He admitted having eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion, and used a gun to intimidate his first wife. He was reprimanded and fined by the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners in May for having sex with patients (before he was in office), a behavior that though not illegal, is highly unethical. So, why did 73% of voters in rural Franklin County, for example, choose to reelect DeJarlais with his personal issues? DeJarlais claims it is because Tennesseans trust him in Washington. Indeed, people interviewed have said that they trust him as the known against the unknown to vote the way they want him to vote.

While I respect my husband’s struggle with this topic, I myself do not judge a candidate based on personal indiscretions. For the most part, I wish the media would respect the private lives of politicians and let them keep their bedroom secrets.

But those who call the moral high ground should think twice before proclaiming superiority. If DeJarlais prostrated himself and said a million times, “I’m sorry,” it still does not make him a person with sound moral judgment or good sense. It really only makes him a politician who will say anything to get religious people behind him. And obviously they will fall in line so long as he tows the Tea Party line.

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