Chris Lee And The Hypocrisy of ‘Pro-Family’ Republicans

Chris Lee And The Hypocrisy of 'Pro-Family' Republicans

Few people are going to miss Representative Chris Lee. Lechery or no lechery, he was a lousy and insignificant politician, given to abusing earmarks and franking privileges. The only reason anyone cares about Lee’s resignation is because of the absurd circumstances of the scandal leading up to it.

Truthfully, even in terms of scandal, it’s more stupid than titillating. Lee, despite being married, sent a shirtless photo of himself to a woman on Craigslist using his real name. No physical sexual misconduct took place, no one was injured, and the American people as a whole wouldn’t have been affected one way or the other if the scandal never broke out.

However, Chris Lee has generated just as much news from the controversy and his subsequent resignation as other licentious politicians. In comparison to other events going on in the world, like the Egyptian situation, the Chris Lee situation is getting more coverage than it most likely deserves. Yet, with further analysis, this situation speaks volumes about not only the nature of political sex scandals, but also of the moral expectations of the Republican political machine.

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The first consideration when examining recent political sex scandals is that the majority of the offenders have been Republican. This is a matter of objective fact. Chris Lee is a Republican, as is Larry Craig, John Ensign, David Vitter, and the three Marks (Souder, Sanford, and Foley). Of course, there are notable examples on the Democrat side — most obviously John Edwards — but Republicans make up the bulk of the list by far.

The obvious irony is that the Republican apparatus has an obsessive focus on “family values” and moral rectitude, a focus that does not include cruising airport restrooms or frequenting high-class prostitutes. As easy it is to chalk this up to some inherent hypocrisy present in all Republicans, that isn’t really fair.

There are really a number of different ways to look at the situation. One perspective (which, although quite pessimistic, has its merits) is that both Democrats and Republicans are embroiled in tricky situations to an equal degree, and Republicans get caught with greater frequency and face more ostracizing because of their fixation on “moral” issues. This might explain why Chris Lee resigned while a Democrat like Barney Frank, who was living with a male escort in the late 1980s, did not resign.

It’s also possible that it’s mere coincidence, or that the more independent news sources that tend to break these stories (Gawker was the first to run the Chris Lee story) are less sympathetic to conservatives. There’s also the view that these Republicans take such hard lines on family values to overcompensate for deep-seated lecherous desires.

However, while these views have some level of validity, they seem more like blanket statements than anything else. The Republican party most likely isn’t a support group for folks suffering from repressed Freudian sexual dilemmas. The real cause of this trend might be the very nature of the Republican moral fixation itself.

First, as the 21st century marches on, we’re observing that “morality” is more than a base political tool in the first place. On more than several occasions throughout history, a loose definition of morality has been used to justify discriminatory practices. In the more distant past, colonization and imperialism were considered “moral” because they brought Christianity and “civilized” living to the heathens. In more recent times, the “moral” sanctity of marriage (which, historically, is more an economic arrangement than anything else) has been used to shut out same-sex couples from rights extended to heterosexuals.

The Republican party of 2011 has come to define everything in the black-and-white terms of “morals.” Militarization is necessary to spread the moral principles of democracy, while state assistance is “immoral” because of… well, you’d have to ask a Republican. In a time when cultural boundaries have collapsed and the internet has pointed a mirror into the darkest parts of human desire (for anyone who was actually offended by Chris Lee’s Craigslist foibles, I don’t recommend checking out 4chan), the ability to sort things into a binary of “moral” and “immoral” has collapsed. Things that have seemed “moral” in the past now show themselves to be mostly arbitrary.

Even the things that seem like they might be more clean-cut have proven to have ultimately no bearing on political finesse or authority. A number of the founding fathers had adultery issues, such as Thomas Jefferson, and their political importance has not been diminished.

So, the validity of the whole concept of politician-as-moral-leader has been destabilized. While a significant amount of the American public has accepted this when they’ve entered the voting booth (of our last three presidents, Clinton was an adulterer, Bush was an alcoholic, Barack Obama did a decent amount of drugs), the leadership of the Republican party has responded by increasing its need to categorize everything as moral or immoral.

The immediate result is that the Republican party has made it impossible for anyone to follow its utterly constricting edicts for a “moral” life. Among the things that the Republican party believes are necessary for a good moral life include no premarital sex, no extramarital sex, no same-sex partners, no pornography, no drug use, no abortions, no stem cells… the list of prohibitions could go on. The Republican party asks nothing short of sainthood for its candidates, reality be damned.

The result is that this constant prohibition easily morphs into a fetishism of the forbidden. Instead of the traditional Freudian psychological projection, where hidden desires create this list of taboos, the reverse occurs. Instead, the Republican ideology has created something more along the lines of Foucauldian discipline. This hard-and-fast, prohibitive conceptualization of “moral politics” has ensured that the Republican party actually creates its own sexual scandals.

Or, to make it less abstract, in order to edify its position as the party of morals, Republicans have to oust their own to preserve that image. This is why Chris Lee is resigning over a shirtless photograph, while many former members of the Bush administration will never be prosecuted over corruption or obstruction of justice. This is also why Chris Lee is leaving office, while Barney Frank isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Of course, the truth is, sexual scandals are nowhere near as dangerous to the governance of the American people as financial or foreign policy scandals. However, these are not as necessary to providing a definition of modern “Republican-ness” as the dogged and rigid definition of private “morality.” If they must sacrifice a Chris Lee every so often, they will continue to do so.

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Mark Andre Clements is a fiction writer and a freelance journalist. His work has appeared in Seafarers Log and in many anonymous SEO articles about cheap vacations.

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