How much should we care about politicians’ personal failings?

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

U.S. Sen. David Vitter

By Robert Mann

What’s the difference between former Gov. Edwin Edwards and U.S. Sen. David Vitter? Vitter paid prostitutes and apologized while an unabashed Edwards has often bragged about his sexual prowess. Vitter has always campaigned against public corruption while Edwards used his high position to enrich himself and his friends. Vitter is a committed conservative; Edwards remains an old-style populist.

They are about as different as any two politicians could be.

In my mind, however, here’s the crucial difference between them: For his crimes, Edwards deserves to lose his race for the state’s 6th congressional district seat. Despite his 2007 prostitution scandal, the voters were probably correct in re-electing Vitter in 2010.

Edwards served time in a federal prison for racketeering. He maintains his innocence and has never apologized for the misconduct that earned him eight years behind bars. Vitter, on the other hand, has been contrite about his moral lapses, if not specific. Regardless of his unwillingness to fully cough up the details of his sexual misconduct, Vitter apologized.

When he ran for re-election, many believed the voters would reject Vitter. They were wrong. Vitter might have been a flawed individual, but he well represented the state’s disenchantment with President Barack Obama.

Put another way, Vitter skillfully channeled Louisiana’s growing conservatism. He staked out conservative positions in an increasingly conservative state and made his case more effectively than his Democratic opponent. In short, he earned re-election.

All this came to mind this week after I read an excerpt in The New York Times of a new book by journalist Matt Bai, “All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid.” It’s about the 1988 sex scandal that derailed Colorado Sen. Gary Hart’s presidential campaign. In the piece, Bai decries the rise of journalism obsessed with the personal failings of politicians, not their policies.

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5 Responses to How much should we care about politicians’ personal failings?

  1. rongcheek says:

    David Vitter has not one bill passed as a Senator in Washington. He was an outsider when in Baton Rouge. His only claim to fame was embarrassing Louisiana politicians into term limits.

    I have followed and appreciated your blogs. However endorsing Vitter for governor and/or re-election is unconscionable. If the prostitute Vitter bought had not mysteriously died and had testified, Vitter would have either gone to jail or been railroaded out of Washington.


  2. pbrownphd says:

    Vitter’s not a sexual conservative, though.


  3. Matthew Walton says:

    I will be voting for Senator Vitter for Governor, and I have to say that yours is the best essay I’ve ever seen explaining why the Senator’s past personal problems shouldn’t be compared to the Felonies of Edwards. Thank you.


  4. tls0 says:

    Sadly, I would prefer a felonius monkey spanker who more closely reflects my policy choices to any of the many rightwingers (extremists all or pretending to be) currently running to represent corporate fatcatocracy in the name of my congressional district. …not that much different than the 2000 election Missouri voters who preferred electing a dead man to voting for Ashcroft… our form of “representative democracy” is far from ideal


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