Assessing McAllister misstep requires sound judgment
That didn’t take long for Washington to corrupt, in the case of Rep. Vance McAllister who was recorded in a silent tête-à-tête with a female, now former, staffer. If nothing else, in assessing the political impact the episode has on his future will provide another opportunity to put into context how transgressions of this nature become politicized and exposes the intellectual poverty of arguments about them from the political left.
While there are a number of fascinating peripheral questions here (who happened onto this? who forwarded it to the Ouachita Citizen? why did this happen three months after the incident’s recording?), the very central one is about what impact this has on McAllister’s political future. Not long after the story broke, McAllister issued a public apology for this minor episode of infidelity to family, supporters, and constituents, and whether this encourages somebody to run against him on the basis that you have to get somebody in there who can resist the temptations of Babylon remains to be seen.
To understand the effect on his political career, it’s useful to compare the most consequential sex scandal in American history, that of Pres. Bill Clinton, and the most recent consequential (apparent) one in Louisiana, that of Sen. David Vitter. Clinton, despite denials for months that launched a public investigation costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, was demonstrated using physical evidence to have engaged in extensive sexual activity with a White House intern. In doing so, Clinton was held in contempt by a federal court for lack of candor in his testimony, and he later admitted to the special prosecutor in the case that he knowingly given inaccurate answers under oath, which led to his surrendering of his law license. He issued an apology to the public, which he later acknowledged lacked needed contrition.
In Vitter’s instance, he admitted commission of a “serious sin,” believed to be having engaged services of prostitutes. His public apology, coming years after the assumed last act, acknowledged responsibility and emphasized a recognition of shortcoming and a declaration that action had been taken to continue to avoid this sin. Unlike Clinton, these activities did not interfere with his performance of duties in office, did not divert taxpayer funds to cover up lying, and he never had legal charges brought against him. The obvious difference is that Clinton, besides denying responsibility for months, abused the powers of his office and the trust of the American people in relation to his misdeed, while Vitter did neither.
McAllister’s fault appears on the order of Vitter’s; the only significant difference being that this involved a staffer on the taxpayer dime. Still, as long as her work output was legitimate and wasn’t there solely for spurious reasons (which seems unlikely as she is the spouse of a longtime friend of his; if he wanted only a plaything it would have been a lot easier to find someone without whom he had a long acquaintance), none of what McAllister has done here has betrayed the trust of his office. (Regrettably, perhaps following Matthew 5:30, she was fired. (Note: since initial publishing, the original source now reports the staffer voluntarily resigned.)
As such, just as in Vitter’s case, as long as the public accepts that McAllister gave in to human frailty to which all are prone, believes him sincere in his regret and desire to change, and that he shows every intention to avoid such behavior in the future, this should not affect his long-term political career and short-term desire to win a full term. That task might be more difficult because, unlike Vitter who had many years to demonstrate a policy agenda much in congruence with the state’s majority thereby giving him the benefit of the doubt, McAllister has been in office less than half a year with almost no record. This makes it easier for an opponent to claim McAllister is less serious about policy as he seems to spend time hitting on the staff, but McAllister’s ability to argue convincingly this was a deviation from the norm not to be repeated and has nothing to do with his capacity to serve should mitigate the threat from that kind of challenge.
Of course, none of this will matter to the hypocritical left that will condemn McAllister and declare him unfit for office because of the long-standing double standard it takes in these cases. Because McAllister came off as a “family values” candidate, it will howl that he says one thing and does another, a line of thinking that betrays not just an utter lack of logic, but also a perverse belief that a disordered moral life leads to a pristine political persona.
In essence, the left gives a freebie to those politicians, almost always liberals, who end up in these kinds of affairs who do not make it part of their campaign and policy agenda the validating of traditional moral values. By failing to align with a conservative social agenda, if not outright opposing some aspects of it, it’s as if these politicians, in the fever swamps of liberalism, inoculate themselves from charges of behaving badly and are immune from any political consequences. In other words, if you honestly set an admirable goal of moral personal (not connected to politics) behavior, yet fall short, even if you have genuine contrition you are to be condemned and declared unfit for political life. By contrast, somebody who doesn’t do this behaves badly, and the left shrugs it off as irrelevant to politics, even if that behavior subsequently affects the political behavior of the transgressor.
But the point is, even by (most of) the left’s definition, both agents engaged in bad personal behavior. So why is it that the sincere one who aimed high and missed must exit political life while the unconcerned one who didn’t try gets a pass? Such is the two-faced approach many liberals will take on this issue, which shows neither logic nor wisdom, as well as conveniently overlooks the fact that only McAllister’s family and not the public where victims of betrayal. Indeed, far better it is to have people in office who try to take a moral code, widely followed by the American people, seriously that they would have supported in public policy than those who don’t.
The coming months will reveal whether a sufficient number of voters feel enough of a personal affront performed by McAllister to threaten his political future. However, as this affair seemed to have nothing to do with his performance in office, evaluating him primarily in terms of his policy performance seems most wise and appropriate.
Posted by Jeff Sadow at 11:20