In a nutshell, the case for reelection of Sen. David Vitter was made succinctly and compellingly (for conservatives, at least) by the Republican Caddo Parish Executive Committee which endorsed the incumbent Vitter over challenger Chet Traylor. Reviewing its reasoning shows why Vitter continues to lead commandingly in polling of the contest.
The endorsement notes Vitter’s strong and reliable support of almost every conservative issue preference. This corroborates the American Conservative Union’s voting scorecard, which gave Vitter a perfect (conservative) 100 for 2009 to elevate his lifetime (in Congress) score to over 93. It concludes by arguing, essentially, that why change horses when this one works so well?
That’s why Vitter can play so well statewide on the issues. Simply, in terms of political ideology, in a self-identified conservative country Louisiana stands out as a self-identified conservative state. In the last semi-annual Gallup polling on this question, Louisiana ranked 10th in terms on self-identifying conservatives and eighth in the “conservatism gap” (conservative percentage minus liberal percentage; notably, only Rhode Island and the District of Columbia even have more self-identified liberals than conservatives) – there are about three times the proportion of self-identified conservatives in Louisiana than liberals. Vitter’s views are received warmly in the Pelican State.
Of course, Vitter’s opponents regardless of political stripe want to try to detach some the majority that agree with him on the issues by raising the “serious sin” issue, for which three years ago Vitter asked the public forgiveness. He never has specified it nor has he ever been subject to any legal proceedings over it, but it is believed to be in connection with a prostitution service. The argument goes that, assuming Vitter utilized such services, that this somehow renders him unfit for office.
It’s a line often promoted by liberals frustrated with Vitter’s electoral success who hope desperately it can be used against him in this election cycle in order to elect a Democrat like Rep. Charlie Melancon. Unfortunately for them, it relies on an implicit “inoculation strategy” that, at a subconscious level, people usually reject as illogical.
That is, since Vitter’s ideology espouses social conservatism, alleged immoral behavior on his part thereby renders him unfit for office. Note the two tremendously faulty assumptions that must prop this view: that if you aren’t a social conservative you get a pass on immoral behavior (the inoculation) so that, unlike with Vitter, it cannot be used in negative evaluation of that candidate, and that the issue necessarily dominates over all others; that is, no matter how conservative Vitter may be in voting behavior, a moral faux pas negates any other attractiveness that he may present to voters who place importance on a candidate’s issue preferences.
More sophisticated conceptualization consistent with true conservative belief tells us that as long as Vitter’s hypothesized immoral activities did not translate into corrupt practices as part of his legislative duties, and that he recognized personal shortcomings and successfully works to keep them from giving into temptation to commit immoral acts, that past “sins” are irrelevant to effective representation of an optimal public policy agenda. This is absolutely consistent with conservatism, which recognizes inevitable and unchangeable human fallibility and wishes to order society so that it provides maximal redemptive opportunities to be made available for their taking by individuals. (Contrast this with liberalism, which believes in the inherent perfectibility of mankind and that the state is the optimal instrument to force this involuntary remaking on members of society who are captive to a “false consciousness” of autonomy.)
As a result, those who propagate the inoculation strategy turn out to be hypocrites. They argue Vitter’s disqualification because of his assumed violation of a moral code with which he and his supporters agree, but they are selective in picking and choosing which incidents apply and to whom. For example, if you condemn the breaking of the bonds of trust and fidelity between husband and wife that leads to unsuitability to hold office, you must equally condemn it when a liberal Democrat president sworn to truthfulness lies to a court about the performance of his job (Bill Clinton) and shatters the trust of the nation, or when liberal Democrat representatives take money for favors for special interests (alleged by Congress itself with Reps. Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters) that destroys the trust their constituents had in them. In fact, because these incidents involved malfeasance in office, their transgressions are far greater and public and relevant to a support decision instead of the private matter that had nothing to do with constituents involving Vitter.
Yet few on the political left then or now boldly proclaim that resignations or rejection at the ballot box are the appropriate standard for liberal politicians who make what conservatives think are moral transgressions but that liberals think are just different lifestyle choices or perhaps “justified” somehow by the past, their commitment to liberalism, or some other excuse. If not a double standard, the inconsistency of its application is unprincipled. This then creates comedy when these liberal critics, who don’t think this kind of issue should be important in vote decisions, then have the audacity to tell conservatives it should be for them.
But, as the endorsement implied, that consideration itself is irrelevant: as long as a representative follows an agenda with which his constituents agree without other matters interfering with it, he deserves reelection. It is that thinking that will predominate in electoral choices concerning the Senate contest, and is why, unless he falters in his repentance, Vitter will win reelection.