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Interns and Other Playthings

July 24, 2001

Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican Senate minority leader, said recently that Congressman Gary Condit of California should resign his House seat simply for having had an affair with an intern. Whether or not he also had a hand in Chandra Levy’s disappearance, Condit had fatally disgraced himself.

The reaction was telling. By Lott’s criterion, Democrats retorted, half the members of Congress would have to quit.

Now they tell us! Three years ago the Democrats were clucking that it was “reprehensible” that Bill Clinton had played around with an intern. Of course they denied that it was an impeachable offense, but they wanted the public to know they didn’t take it lightly. They even talked of “censure” for Clinton.

Now they come right out and treat sex with interns as the norm, with no pretense of disapproval. Condit acts guilty and appears impenitent, yet he is under no pressure from his fellow Democrats to resign.

[Breaker quote: What has sex got 
to do with honor?]Are the Republicans turning up the heat? No. They are afraid of appearing “partisan” by insisting on applying elementary standards of honor to the Democrats. Or maybe they are afraid that their own ranks would be thinned if the Democrats and their media allies, including Larry Flynt, should start looking into Republican conduct.

During the 1998 impeachment proceedings, after all, when adultery in office became an issue, there were more Republican than Democratic casualties. When a Republican is caught in sexual license, it’s a disgrace; it proves he’s a hypocrite, and therefore fair game for the press. When a Democrat is caught, it’s just his “private life” — or his “lifestyle.” The press reacts with indulgence, because Democratic deviations call for “tolerance.”

Such are the rules today. If you uphold traditional morality, you risk being charged with hypocrisy — worst of sins! — if you, or anyone on your side, is found to have sinned. Whereas if you undermine that morality, your own immoral behavior proves your consistency, even your integrity. So it’s safer to attack than to defend morality.

But as John O’Sullivan has put it, the defense of virtue can’t be left to the virtuous. All of us owe it to God, and to each other, to honor standards that we may not always observe with perfect scruples. If you lie or steal, you are still bound to uphold honesty in principle. Lying and stealing don’t give you the right to defend such practices.

The same applies to sexual morality. People don’t really disagree about it as much as they pretend to. We all know that certain practices are degrading. Nobody admires a prostitute. Even pagans have honored chastity. Rape is not only a torture but a defilement. Even masturbators are ashamed of themselves, which is why Hugh Hefner hit on the brilliant idea of endowing pornography with glamour and portraying the Playboy reader as an upscale swinger. (If you believe that, just look at the guys at the porn rack sometime.)

The deeper hypocrisy lies in affecting not to know right from wrong. Ordinarily decent people don’t want their children exposed to porn, much less to be “sexually active” — or promiscuous, as we used to say. The prevalence of the “new morality” fostered by the media has made many parents give up in quiet despair, afraid to assert their real beliefs even within their families. This seems to have been the case in poor Chandra Levy’s family: her parents and other relatives were too diffident to discourage her from having an affair with a married man.

We are constantly urged to “get in touch with our feelings.” This usually means indulging our baser feelings. But we really need to get in touch with our nobler feelings, which include the aspiration to chastity, to sexual honor and integrity.

These are the feelings that are outraged when Othello is convinced of Desdemona’s infidelity, or when Don Pedro learns that Don Giovanni has debauched his daughter. According to the “new morality,” Othello and Don Pedro overreact irrationally; there is no such thing as sexual “debauchery.” But the play and the opera are great precisely because we recognize the validity of the passions that drive them.

The modern world is trying to shrug off things that are built into our nature. This hypocrisy is far more destructive than the older kind.

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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