“A more universal definition of family values might be mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance of differences, and service. It might include instilling in individuals and families knowledge of the less fortunate, and a desire to assist them.”
The U.S. is nearly four years from its next presidential election spectacle, but that does not stop the politicians and pundits from predicting who may run. Four years, it seems, is not too early to throw one’s hat into the ring.
And who is now being offered up for U.S. consumption? The list of (falling) stars is ever growing. Let us take a look at a few, some who are new, and some recycled.
Leading the pack in the ‘new’ category is conservative Republican senator John Ensign of Nevada. Having spent most of his career keeping a low profile, it was thought that perhaps no one knew enough about him to actively oppose him. For a Republican today, that may be the best one could hope for.
Unfortunately for Mr. Ensign, he was caught with his pants down and admitted to having had an extra-marital affair. For a ‘family values’ conservative, this may be a complete show stopper. However, he has resisted any suggestion that he resign from the Senate, and may still harbor presidential ambitions. He is not up for reelection until 2012, so perhaps he is counting on the traditional short memory of the U.S. voter to allow this most unfortunate experience to fade into the Nevada background.
Next is South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford. A Bible-thumping conservative, he was (until very recently) best known for attempting to reject millions of federal dollars to hire public school teachers, and for bringing two pigs into the statehouse to highlight pork-barrel spending. Unfortunately the pigs were not housebroken and what is most remembered from that object lesson is the mess they made.
But Mr. Sanford does not appear to be as familiar as one might expect with the Bible he so often cites. He is the latest casualty of the family-values-in-name-only wing of the Republican Party: after the state’s legislative session ended, he told his family and staff he was going to hike the Appalachian trial for a few days. He apparently took a wrong turn somewhere and ended up in his mistress’s bed in Argentina. Anyone might have some difficulty following a trail map, but this does not seem to be the kind of error that frequently happens to the average hiker.
Both the Nevada senator and South Carolina governor have said they will not resign, although Mr. Sanford does have some answering to do regarding who paid for his trips to South America. One longs for the better-late-than-never discretion of former senator and 2000 Democratic vice-presidential candidate John Edwards. Once his affair became public he apparently realized that his credibility was gone and he quietly slunk off to the sidelines, seldom to be heard from again, and probably never to be voted for again. Wouldn’t the people of Nevada, South Carolina and the rest of the country like to say a quick farewell to Messrs Ensign and Sanford?
But, a Republican supporter may hastily point out, Bill Clinton was elected president after admitting to extra-marital affairs. True, but he never proclaimed to be anything other than what he was; the country saw him with all his faults and elected him anyway. Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford have condemned the behaviors they practiced. The issue goes beyond adultery to hypocrisy which the populace tends to have very little patience with.
Speaking of adulterers brings us to an old familiar name that has once again found its way into the press. Former New York City Mayor and presidential candidate wannabe Rudi Giuliani has announced that he is considering a run for the governor’s office in New York. Mr. Giuliani, who sunk millions of dollars into an ego-fed and totally disastrous run for the Republican nomination, apparently had so much fun that he wants to do it all over again. The citizens of the nation, and of New York State in particular, must prepare themselves emotionally to deal with his constant ‘I was mayor on 9/11′ mantra. It didn’t work on the national level; maybe he thinks it will in New York.
It was the gallant Mr. Giuliani who announced plans to divorce wife number 2 to marry wife number 3 at a news conference which, unfortunately, was the first that Number 2 heard about it. But the course of true love never runs smoothly, as can be attested by Mr. Sanford who, as he tells all and sundry, is currently trying to fall back in love with his wife after (allegedly) ending his affair with his ‘soul mate’. (Too much information, Mr. Sanford, thank you very much.)
This brings us to former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, another Republican proclaiming the Conservative view of ‘family values’. One watched in stunned horror last year as Mrs. Palin stumbled all over the political stage, making bizarre statements and finishing off the job of executing Sen. John McCain’s presidential ambitions. Now she has abruptly and unexpectedly resigned her position with over a year left of her term. One could look to her resignation statement for the reasons for this puzzling decision, but since said statement is fairly incoherent, one simply doesn’t bother. Pundits on one end are declaring this a brilliant move, providing her time to spend in the Lower 48 as she prepares for a run for the White House in 2012 (this must be the world’s most terrifying nightmare), while others are saying this leaves her without any political springboard from which to dive into presidential waters. It has also been said that she is simply tired of the ‘blood sport’ of U.S. politics.
Whatever the reason, yet another of the GOP’s darlings has fallen by the wayside, diminishing the party’s ability to ram down the throats of an unwilling populace their particular, and peculiar, brand of government.
Could we take just a minute to talk about ‘family values’? These are not to be confused with family values. The former is the Republican definition; the latter a more universal one. For the GOP, ‘family values’ seems to mean opposing same-sex marriage, sex education and abortion, and blurring the separation of Church and state. It also seems to mean doing whatever is necessary to ensure corporate profits (can anyone forget Mrs. Palin proclaiming that God wants an oil pipeline built across Alaska?).
A more universal definition of family values might be mutual respect, tolerance, acceptance of differences, and service. It might include instilling in individuals and families knowledge of the less fortunate, and a desire to assist them. It might also encompass assuring that family members have access to medical coverage, regardless of their employment or economic situation, and that all have access to quality education right through college if that is their choice. They should be able to have both of these advantages without having to bankrupt their families to gain them.
But no, better to proclaim the sanctity of marriage publicly while violating its vows privately. U.S. senators and governors have access to quality health care, even as they deny it to private citizens. Their children can go to private schools; the salaries they earn allow it, so really, why should they concern themselves with the quality of public education? As long as no one is telling innocent children about sex, the education system is fine. Better these impressionable children and youths learn about sex from the internet, where all possible information is available, than have it taught responsibly by trained adults. Heaven forbid it be discussed; it might give them ‘ideas’.
How much tolerance is shown by the Republicans? A look back at one senate race in 2006 may be instructive. Virginia Senator George Allen appeared to be headed for re-election until he spotted a campaign aide to his opponent, James Webb, filming a speech Mr. Allen was making. This aide happened to be of East Indian descent, although he was born and raised in Virginia (unlike Mr. Allen). He must surely have been noticeable in the conservative, otherwise all-white crowd assembled to hear Mr. Allen’s pearls of wisdom. And Mr. Allen did not disappoint. Pointing to the aide, one Shekar Ramanuja (S. R) Sidarth, the eloquent Mr. Allen said this: “This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. He’s with my opponent.” A few minutes later he added this: “Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia.” ‘Macaca’ is a racial slur believed to mean ‘monkey’. So in addition to easily using a racial slur, Mr. Allen demonstrated a serious lack of brainpower.
So where does all this leave the hapless Republicans? When one has to pin one’s hopes for anything on the potential candidates mentioned above, one is in big trouble. And why any of them continue to hold any credibility in any circles, even the most conservative, is an unsolvable mystery. Not long ago there was some talk about the party redefining itself, but that seems to all have come to naught.
The party out of power is often described as on its last legs, irrelevant, etc. This is not unusual. But generally there is someone that most of the party rank and file can rally around and, while that person may not ever run for president, for a time he (it hasn’t as yet been ‘she’) somehow manages to unite the party and enable it to move forward. There does not seem to be any such personage in the Republican Party at present. Messrs Ensign and Sanford must be relegated to the John Edwards dustbin, and many citizens, even Republicans, run in the other direction when they hear Mrs. Palin’s name. The new darlings of the party, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty have yet to capture the imagination of anyone.
It is, of course, far too early to write off the GOP. But while the Democratic Party is hardly going to usher in a period of utopia, it is somewhat comforting to know that that party is fully in power. At least it will do a lot less damage than the Republicans.
Robert Fantina is author of Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776 - 2006.