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"There is no controlling legal authority that says this was in violation of law."

Remember that one? Vice President Al Gore repeated variations of this interesting ethical argument several times during a press conference in March 1997. The issue was whether the Vice President had violated any laws by making partisan calls in the White House to solicit campaign funds. The Vice President’s against-the-wall defense was, to paraphrase, “It’s not specifically illegal (which by the way wasn’t true), so it must be OK.”

I thought of this last week listening to Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain announce he was “suspending”—a soft word for quitting, running for cover, or I have no idea what may come out next—his campaign for the Republican nomination.

Why did Cain suspend his campaign? “I’ve got to think about my family first. That is absolutely my #1 priority.” Really? Since when?

I’m not suggesting I know whether Herman Cain is a philanderer. I don’t, at least not for sure. But there was a lot of smoke and more coming: his wife apparently didn’t know anything about the woman (an alleged 13-year affair) to whom Cain had given money and spoken on the phone repeatedly over months, he apparently never talked to his wife about all this until he made a trek home to “reassess” his campaign, and his wife, perhaps tellingly, never publicly came to his defense. Sad.

What’s worse, like “no controlling legal authority,” before Cain threw in the towel, Cain’s lawyer issued this statement in an attempt to defend him: “...This appears to be an accusation of private, alleged consensual conduct between adults—a subject matter which is not a proper subject of inquiry by the media or the public. No individual, whether a private citizen, a candidate for public office or a public official, should be questioned about his or her private sexual life….”

Are you kidding me? If this were you, do you really want your lawyer making a lawyerly statement like this? Why didn’t Cain or his wife or his lawyer scream to the high heavens, “It ain’t so”?

Now we have a new one: “Sex between consenting adults is no one’s business.” OK. I can buy the freedom and privacy part of this argument. But I can’t buy the implication that anything two people decide to do is by definition “right” or “moral” and, by the way, no one else’s business. And oh by the way, society, morality, children, family, friends, organizations, and nation-states that happened to be affected by these consenting adults be hanged.

Bill Clinton tried this. He said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” lying through his teeth to the American people as he said it. Later under oath he debated the definition of “is.” Look in the dictionary under “weasel words” and you’ll see a picture of Bill Clinton, or maybe Al Gore, or maybe Herman Cain—I know, I know, we don’t know for sure about Cain. OK. If he didn’t conduct an illicit affair(s), then why did he suspend his campaign?

Not illegal doesn’t make something right, moral, or necessarily even advisable. Vice presidents, presidents, and candidates don’t seem to have learned this along the way. Ask John Edwards. For that matter, if he were still around, ask Ted Kennedy. Ask too many American political leaders. Will Newt Gingrich be next? I don’t know, but I do know his personal past is checkered at best.

Sex, lies, and presidential politics are becoming an all-too-common evil triumvirate. Wonder what it would be like to listen to presidential candidates who had high principles of ethics and actually held to them?

Wonder what it would be like to hear presidential candidates who actually told the truth? Especially to their spouses.


© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011

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