This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible. Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there-with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.
United States Senator David Vitter (R-LA), July 9, 2007
Thank goodness for my neighbor, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the so-called “D. C. Madam.” She has performed a singular public service by exposing the hypocrisy of yet another moralistic politician, Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana. Vitter’s phone number turned up on a phone list of Palfrey clients for what the Madam’s lawyer Montgomery Blair Sibley euphemistically called “legal sexual services,” but for which the Madam is being prosecuted.
Politically, Vitter is no libertarian, but a “family values” Republican and presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani’s personal ambassador to the Christian Right. Sorry Rudy.
Last month, Vitter backed abstinence only education for “teaching teenagers that saving sex until marriage and remaining faithful is the best choice for health and happiness.” During the debate on the “Protection of Marriage Amendment” last year, Vitter said that nothing was more important than banning gay marriage for “promoting that stable, loving, nurturing home environment that can avoid so many of the social ills we’re dealing with today.” He has strongly opposed a woman’s right to choose safe and legal abortions.
As a Louisiana State Representative in 1998, Vitter advocated that President Clinton be “impeached and removed from office because he is morally unfit to govern.” A year later, when Vitter won a seat in the U. S. House of Representatives in a special election, a constituent “sick to death of the old-time politicians in Washington,” wrote to the New Orleans Times-Picayune hailing the victory of “a real family man who believes in family values and high morals.”
Ironies pile on ironies here. Vitter replaced Bob Livingston, the GOP’s designated successor to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, who resigned from Congress after admitting to adulterous affairs. Gingrich, of course, had himself fled Congress in part because of his own extra-marital affair.
In 2004, Vitter won election as the first Republican Senator from Louisiana in 120 years. He featured pro-family ads with his wife and children, called upon voters to stand up for “Louisiana values, not Massachusetts’s values,” and secured 76 percent of voters who cared most about moral issues. “We met Vitter, the dad who knows that it’s family that really matters, not whether we are Republicans or Democrats,” wrote Times-Picayune columnist James Gill.
Vitter’s exposure comes hard on the heels of a recent scandal engulfing Rev. Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, one of America’s oldest and most respected Christian Right groups. Haggard, also an outspoken opponent of abortion and gay marriage, resigned his presidency and ministry and entered long-term rehabilitation amid allegations that he had purchased drugs and the services of a male prostitute.
Vitter-style hypocrisy, however, extends deeply into the history of America’s modern Right. Charles Lindbergh, the spokesman for America First in the 1940s secretly fathered a second family in Germany, unknown to his American wife and six children. Strom Thurmond, who campaigned for president in 1948 to preserve “the racial integrity and purity of the White race,” concealed a mixed-race daughter for 75 years. Oil magnate H. L. Hunt, who spent millions to propagate Christian conservatism in the 1950s, was a gambler and multiple bigamist.
Terry Dolan, founder in the 1970s of the National Conservative Political Action Committee, which joined the anti-gay fund-raising frenzy with a letter warning “our nation’s moral fiber is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement,” was a closeted homosexual. Here in Maryland, conservative Representative Robert Bauman was arrested in 1980 for soliciting sex from a 16 year-old boy.
Vitter did not deny that he indulged in the D. C. Madam’s juicy services. Rather, as shown above, he apologized and reported forgiveness from God and his family. He said that he will respect his family and keep the matter private. Fair enough, although you’ve got to wonder about a guy with the hubris to say he not only asked God for forgiveness but actually received forgiveness.
The bigger question is whether he is now willing to say that our choice of marriage partners or our reproductive decisions should be private matters between us, our family, and our God? Will he now propose that we now teach our children, not just abstinence, but safe sexual practice? It’s time for politicians to extend to others the tolerance and privacy they reserve for themselves.
ALLAN J. LICHTMAN is a professor of history at American University in Washington, DC. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column originally appeared in the Montgomery County Gazette, July 14, 2007