Sexual indiscretion should not inform voting decisions

Shaefer Bagwell argues that sex scandals should not matter when it comes to voting.


John Buchanan/THE CHIMES

Shaefer Bagwell, Writer

A few years ago, the governor of South Carolina disappeared. Without telling his staff or his family, Mark Sanford left his state and went to South America for six days. After an extended press field day, it was revealed that Sanford had left the country to be with the woman he loved. His disappearance was bad enough, but in heavily Christian South Carolina, the infidelity dealt what appeared to be the death blow to his promising political career.

Today, Sanford is back, and running for the Congressional seat he held prior to his days as governor. This case holds a lot of interest for the press. They love a comeback story. They love the smell, no matter how stale, of scandal. What’s more, popular late-night comedian Stephen Colbert’s sister is running against him for the seat, giving this race the feeling of a press circus.

Coverage of the campaign is rampant. Talking heads analyze the man’s every move, trying to divine whether or not he is moving past his sexual scandal, minimizing it, owning up to it or trying to spin it positively. They don’t talk about his issues, his experience, his legislative skill, his D.C. relationships or the clout that he would bring to the position. They talk about his past.

I’m sick of it. Over and over again, elected officials fall prey to sexual scandal, and it’s all the press wants to talk about. Clinton, Craig, Weiner — all of their careers have fallen to sexual sin. While I deplore it in every form, I wonder about its relevance. Barring those cases where the official breaks the law in his or her infidelity, how much does it matter?

I heard it put best in a panel discussion last year. We were discussing former Gov. Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, and contemplating whether or not it should matter to Christian voters. The speaker used the analogy of surgery. When you’re going in for heart surgery, do you ask the doctor about his religion? No. You ask about his experience, his training, his education and his mortality rate. The same should hold in these cases. Do you ask your doctor how many times he’s cheated on his wife, or if he’s ever been divorced?

I would posit that the sexual indiscretions of politicians should be between them, their families and God. As long as they do not break the law, I can’t see why it should matter to voters. When the press covers Mark Sanford’s soiled past ad nauseum, not only does it direct our focus away from the issues that really matter — like his policy and experience — but it drags his family through the whole traumatic experience time and time again.

Granted — character counts. Our leaders are visible and their actions have repercussions. Sexual sin has effects not only on the effectiveness of moral messages, but it can damage our international interests and efficacy. Bill Clinton was the joke of the European Union after Monicagate. That being said, if we de-sensationalize carnal immorality, it wouldn’t carry as much world-wide weight and fascination.

Marital indiscretion is not entertainment. Nor should it be politically pertinent. Bill Clinton was nearly impeached as a result of his infidelity, then went on to become one of the most popular and effective presidents of the last 30 years.

Let Mark Sanford move past his personal history. Analyze his policies and practices. Scrutinize his voting record and legislative accomplishments. Judge the way that he performs in debates. But as Christians, are any of us really qualified to condemn someone because of sin? I certainly am not.

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