The GOP primaries have provided a story line that writers of “Desperate Housewives” might envy. Herman Cain surprised many political pundits by ascending in the polls above some established political figures. His popularity was gathering momentum until a series of sexual harassment allegations surfaced.
Politico first broke the news Oct. 31 that two women had previously filed sexual harassment claims against Cain 20 years earlier when he ran the National Restaurant Association. Karen Krashaar publicly acknowledged the claim a week later, the day after a third woman, Sharon Bialek, accused Cain of making sexual advances towards her when she was pursuing a job with him.
Cain, of course, denied the allegations, but also claimed no memory of them. Later he recanted and remembered a settlement with one of the women. He refused to surrender to what he considered a smear campaign – that is until a fourth allegation surfaced.
On Nov. 28, Ginger White, a long-time friend of Cain, publicly announced that she had participated in an extramarital affair with Cain for 13 years. Both Can and White were married during that time. Once again, Cain boldly denounced the claim, but the damage was done. Five days later, he pulled out of the race, “because of the continued distractions, because of the continued hurt … on me, on my family ….”
Last week, as Newt Gingrich was gaining ground on frontrunner, Mitt Romney, Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne, did an interview with ABC. Marianne married Gingrich in 1981, six months after he acquired a divorce from his first wife of 18 years. In the interview, Marianne claims that during marital counseling, Gingrich made a request for an open marriage that would allow him to continue an affair with a mistress, while he worked on their marriage.
Gingrich divorced Marianne in 1999. During the proceedings, Gingrich admitted to an ongoing affair with Callista Bisek since 1993. Gingrich married Callista in August of 2000.
During a public debate of the GOP candidates last week, Gingrich refuted that he asked for an open marriage. Both of his daughters by his first marriage have defended him against Marianne’s claims. They also say that he has changed and grown closer to God. On Saturday, Gingrich won the South Carolina primary by 13% over Romney.
Whether all of Marianne’s allegations measure up to veracity, Gingrich’s moral character appears questionable. While he stumped for family values and condemned President Clinton for moral failure in the 90’s, Gingrich was living in adultery – for the second time. At the least, this shouts of hypocrisy.
It may be too simplistic, but it appears that voters are willing to overlook one form of moral indiscretion, adultery, but not another, sexual harassment. Does morality play a role in politics and governing? Should society hold its political leaders to a standard of moral integrity? Which standard?
John Adams believed that morality plays a vital role in the survival of a democratic society. In a speech to the military in 1798, he stated, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.… Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
In a message to the Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in North America, George Washington declared, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” In his Farewell Address of 1796, he said, “the government … can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy or any other despotic or oppressive form so long as there shall remain any virtue in the body of the people.”
The fickleness of the populace with respect to the morality of its leaders parallels the decline in social mores. Celebrities publicly celebrate pregnancies before marriage. Reality stars attract substantial viewers while they display unrestrained self-indulgence and excessive indecency. And fans casually imitate the practices of their idols.
A free society that minimizes external governance assumes internal governance. Internal governance results from self-application of moral standards. When a society abandons those restraints, chaos ensues, requiring increased external governance. Political leaders must understand and practice this foundational principle to a free society. When they compromise morality, they will legislate and protect the same compromises in the populace.
Good luck finding candidates in this generation who are both moral and competent to govern.