Beyond Infidelity: Public Morality

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 14, 1999, page B6
� Copyright 1999 St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The morality of Bob Barr, an ultra-conservative Republican from Georgia, has come under withering attack.

None other than Larry Flynt, porn peddler extraordinaire, has denounced the thrice-married author of the Defense of Marriage Act for cheating on his second wife. Mr. Flynt has also accused Mr. Barr, an abortion foe, of paying for an abortion for his second wife. The revelations are part of a campaign, paid for by the smutmeister himself, to expose the hypocrisy of the Republicans leading the drive to impeach President Bill Clinton.

The preoccupation with straying members of Congress - not to mention the obsession with every salacious detail of Monicagate - shows just how low the level of political discourse has sunk. Mr. Barr's response to the abortion charge was somewhat evasive, but it is, after all, nobody's business but his own.

Still, Mr. Barr doesn't deserve a pass on his keynote address to a Council of Conservative Citizens' meeting in June. Both he and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott have a lot of explaining to do about their associations with this racist group. Their cavalier assertions that they didn't know much about the group ring hollow. So why aren't these revelations stirring up more indignation than a navy-blue Gap dress? Isn't this more a violation of the public trust than an extramarital affair?

Our moral compass seems stuck, pointing eternally in only one direction: sex. Issues of private morality have crossed into the public, political sphere. So, the most incendiary political issues - abortion and gay rights - are intimately linked to sex. The Starr Report, outlining the basis for impeachment, reads more like a trashy novel than a legal brief.

The reduction of morality to sexual morality has unfortunate political consequences, beyond the obvious ones of scaring off potentially good public servants and fueling a sexual McCarthyism.
Without a more refined sense of public morality, we lose proportion, perspective and the tools to evaluate our public servants. Our nation' s founding documents are rooted in certain values, like equality and justice. Elected officials who flaunt these civic virtues pose more of a danger than those with a checkered past.