It Could Happen To You

May 20, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

Conservatives discount or ignore the importance of social forces. Even those observers who like to think of themselves as closer to the center, like David Brooks, emphasize “character.” As you turn the dial further to the right, you hear more and more about “individual responsibility.”
Parents need to communicate basic principles about character development, honor and individual responsibility. Young people need to know that they are not victims of their hormones . . . .
That’s from the Website of Concerned Women for America, a right-wing Christian group. (If you can’t guess their agenda, see their core issues here .)

One of their allies in congress is Mark Souder, a Republican from Indiana and a strong family-values guy. But now he’s resigning after news leaked out that he’d been having an affair with a woman on his staff. (A video of her interviewing him about his pro-abstinence views has the Internet ironists LOL in Schadenfreude.)

For conservatives, when a friend like Souder goes astray, the old responsibility rap sounds discordant, and they have to change the playlist. Penny Spence is the head of CWFA, and here’s her take on the Souder affair:
I am deeply saddened by the news of Congressman Mark Souder’s fall into the temptation of an affair. . . . If Mark Souder is capable of sexual misconduct, it could happen to anyone.
Right. The affair was not something Souder did. It “happened to” him. That seems a bit passive even by my standards. But then Spence gets downright sociological.
The frat house environment on Capitol Hill does nothing to encourage accountability. Most Members do not live with their families while they are working in D.C. during the week and have even ditched common rules of etiquette that even major corporations follow such as office doors with windows or careful examination of employee/boss interaction.
Her keen attention to situational forces does not extend to suggestions for structural changes that might discourage adultery. Instead, she merely encourages lawmakers in DC “to guard their hearts and reputations and to live by higher standards.”

To me, the interesting question is not how a solid, family-values Christian could fall into temptation. As Spence says, anyone can slip and fall.* But apparently this affair had been going on for years. How did Souder manage it? Did he change is ideas to accommodate his behavior – ideas not just about adultery but about himself – and what was that process like? What is the “moral career” of the adulterer?

*The subject line of this post is a reference to the great Burke-VanHeusen standard. If you are among the few who saw Woody Allen’s “Anything Else,” you heard this brief version by Diana Krall. Listen to the lyrics, for they reflect what Spence probably has in mind.
“Hide your heart from sight; lock your dreams at night; it could happen to you.Miles recorded it with his 1956 quintet. My favorite version is by Keith Jarrett in the 1996 Tokyo concert.)

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