Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) has told his Republican colleagues that he will resign from the House following an affair with an aide.
“I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff,” said Souder in a statement. “In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain. I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process… by stepping aside, my mistake cannot be used as a political football in a partisan attempt to undermine the cause for which I have labored all my adult life.”
One of the causes Souder is talking about is, of course, abstinence education. As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources when Republicans held the majority in Congress, Souder was a warrior for abstinence-only sex education and a critic of other forms of sex education, and he repeatedly intervened to make sure abstinence advocates were represented — even to the inclusion of other experts — on panels about sexual health. This is an embarrassing moment for the cause Souder spent 16 years advocating for.
Justin Elliott at Talking Points Memo:
Jackson played the role of interviewer for a Souder Web video show on the issues of the day — including one on the value of abstinence.
In the November 2009 abstinence video, Jackson introduces Souder this way: “You’ve been a longtime advocate for abstinence education and in 2006 you had your staff conduct a report entitled ‘Abstinence and its Critics’ which discredits many claims purveyed by those who oppose abstinence education.”
Avi Zenilman at Vanity Fair:
Souder frequently meddled with CDC research into at-risk behavior, and made life difficult for medical researchers of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. For example, in March 2004, Souder hauled Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, a former C.D.C. officer and S.T.D. specialist at Hopkins who happens to be my father, before his committee and proceeded to lecture him on the sins of condoms and sex outside of wedlock and its liberal enablers.
My dad, at the time “speaking as a proud parent of three teenagers” (I’ve grown up since then!), thought it was important to push a message of delay, but that demanding celibacy was just not going to work. “An
abstinence-only approach which excludes safer sex messages and includes messages that emphasize intercourse only within the context of marriage, is therefore clearly out of touch with the realities and practices of the vast majority of Americans,” he said, complaining that the whole debate was “framed in an absolutist stark context.”
Souder ultimately responded by saying that teen sex needs to be aggressively confronted, like date rape, because out-of-wedlock sex always leads to pregnancy and ruins lives. My dad said well-informed people use condoms. This led to the following exchange:
Zenilman: Teenagers having consensual intercourse or adults having sexual intercourse is not the same as a date rape or sexual harassment. The latter has a lot more of the consequences that you mentioned previously. Souder: I don’t think this data backs that statement up. I believe they are awful and I have worked with them, but you are not going to argue here that out-of-wedlock pregnancy and related things are less damaging overall to a life’s career than somebody who has been sexually harassed, which, by the way, may also occur in the teen pregnancy and the out-of-wedlock or non-married sexual activity.
Zenilman: A consensual adult who is actually having sexual relations and is properly informed will be contracepting.
Souder: This isn’t really a debate, and I am sorry I got us off into that. We have a substantial disagreement.
If Souder was my dad, I’d be very confused.
But then there’s the larger context: those “family-values” Republicans sure do have a lot of sex scandals, don’t they? It’s getting difficult to keep track of them all. Souder is the newest, but his humiliation comes on the heels of Sen. John Ensign’s (R-Nev.) scandal. That came to light around the same time as Gov. Mark Sanford’s (R-S.C.) sex scandal, which came soon after Gov. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), which itself followed Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho).
If we look back a little further, we also find disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani. If go back a little more, names like Vito Fossella, Tim Hutchinson, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, and Bob Livingston also come to mind. And those are just the office-holders.
For the better part of a generation, the Republican Party has demanded higher moral standards of all of us, while failing to meet these standards. It’s far easier for the public to tolerate personal mistakes and human failings than it is to accept shameless hypocrisy.
Chris Good at The Atlantic:
But here’s why Rep. Souder’s resignation isn’t all that bad for his party, compared to recent congressional sex scandals:
1) He’s resigning from Congress. Any scandal is worsened by a politician who chooses to stick around. Souder’s affair with a part-time staffer is reminiscent of Sen. John Ensign’s (R-NV) staffer affair, and Ensign has remained in the Senate, dogged by an FBI investigation over a nearly $100,000 payment he arranged and help he gave go the staffer’s husband in finding a job. Souder, it seems, has come out with it and will leave, making a relatively clean break, not a messy, protracted, circus. Compare that to the days after Eric Massa’s scandal broke, before he resigned the following Monday. Souder will officially resign from Congress Friday.
2) Eric Massa. There is no way this looks all that bad compared to the utter charade of questionable statements, snorkeling revelations, live Glenn Beck air time, and sniping at the White House and Democratic leaders that Eric Massa delivered to us in his fantastical whirlwind of egomania. After Massa, the first congressman to resign in relative calm order, basically, gets overshadowed.
3) Republicans will keep his seat. Whether a special election is held, or whether Indiana waits until November to replace him, Souder’s third district seat is not competitive. The Cook Political Report rates that district as R+14. There will be no meme about how infidelity has cost Republicans an actual legislative seat.
4) It’s clearly not as juicy as other recent scandals. Yes, an affair with a part-time staffer is pretty good. Taxpayers were paying someone that Rep. Souder was having an affair with. But, so far, it lacks the extravagance of David Vitter’s prostitution scandal, Larry Craig’s wide stance, Mark Sanford’s Argentinian disappearance, Eliot Spitzer’s affair with the since-ubiquitous Ashlee Dupre, and, yes, Massa’s tickle fights. All those scandals have happened in the last few years. Compared to them, Souder’s appears less than memorable, at this point.
A few points: we don’t know the full story on Souder yet. All we have is the breaking news, so perhaps it’s premature to judge impact. Add a dash of blackmail and Souder’s Google hits will spike.
Expect Democrats, if given a reasonable opportunity, to ask what House Republican leaders knew and when they knew it, probing for any inkling of a cover up. When Massa’s scandal broke, Republicans loudly called for the House ethics committee to investigate Democratic leaders. The committee has since interviewed Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, according to Politico. It’s unclear as of yet whether the ethics committee will investigate Souder and his staffer, but it’s a safe bet they will.
And on to the second politician behaving badly:
Raymond Hernandez at NYT:
At a ceremony honoring veterans and senior citizens who sent presents to soldiers overseas, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut rose and spoke of an earlier time in his life.
“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam,” Mr. Blumenthal said to the group gathered in Norwalk in March 2008. “And you exemplify it. Whatever we think about the war, whatever we call it — Afghanistan or Iraq — we owe our military men and women unconditional support.”
There was one problem: Mr. Blumenthal, a Democrat now running for the United States Senate, never served in Vietnam. He obtained at least five military deferments from 1965 to 1970 and took repeated steps that enabled him to avoid going to war, according to records.
The deferments allowed Mr. Blumenthal to complete his studies at Harvard; pursue a graduate fellowship in England; serve as a special assistant to The Washington Post’s publisher, Katharine Graham; and ultimately take a job in the Nixon White House.
In 1970, with his last deferment in jeopardy, he landed a coveted spot in the Marine Reserve, which virtually guaranteed that he would not be sent to Vietnam. He joined a unit in Washington that conducted drills and other exercises and focused on local projects, like fixing a campground and organizing a Toys for Tots drive.
Many politicians have faced questions over their decisions during the Vietnam War, and Mr. Blumenthal, who is seeking the seat being vacated by Senator Christopher J. Dodd, is not alone in staying out of the war.
But what is striking about Mr. Blumenthal’s record is the contrast between the many steps he took that allowed him to avoid Vietnam, and the misleading way he often speaks about that period of his life now, especially when he is speaking at veterans’ ceremonies or other patriotic events.
Daniel Foster at The Corner:
Blumenthal has steadfastly refused to directly apologize, stating only his passive “regret” at “misplaced words” and citing this seemingly innocent prepositional inversion as the source of all the controversy surrounding his statements on his military service.
Does anyone buy this? Once maybe, but Blumenthal’s elisions and insinuations about his service are plural, and have taken different forms.
Besides, the move from “during” to “in” is a move from ambiguity to clarity. I, for one, wouldn’t know whether a soldier had been in-country merely from his statement that he served “during Vietnam.” This tells me when he served, but leaves unclear where. A man who says he served “in Vietnam”, on the other hand, answers the second question definitively.
UPDATE: I don’t think there is any reason at all to believe Blumenthal “misspoke.” I think he lied, full stop. But to see why Blumenthal’s prepositional slip story doesn’t quite fit, allow me to keep on my grammarian’s hat and semanticist’s monocle for just a minute longer. Let’s take a look at Blumenthal’s alleged “misplaced” words:
“We have learned something important since the days that I served in Vietnam.”
Simply subbing in “in” for “during” here makes the sentence sound a bit off. That’s because “in” is usually a spatial preposition, but both “during” and “since” are temporal prepositions. If he really meant to say “during Vietnam”, which fixes Blumenthal’s service temporally, then “since the days” would be redundant or vice versa. In other words, if he really meant “during Vietnam” and only “during Vietnam”, the whole sentence would have looked different. He would have said something like “We have learned something important since the Vietnam era, when I served.”
Jonathan Tobin at Commentary:
Connecticut’s Democratic Senate candidate Richard Blumenthal’s news conference in which he attempted to defuse the scandal over his lies about his military service provided a new version of the “suffering wife” who routinely stands by her husband as he owns up to misdeeds.
But instead of having his spouse stand painfully by him as he walked back what he now describes as “a few misplaced words,” Blumenthal had a chorus line of veterans behind him at the press conference that took place at the West Hartford Veterans of Foreign Wars hall. And rather than keep silent as he at first spoke at length touting his record and then briefly owned up to the problem, the veterans in attendance cheered Blumenthal’s statement and frequently punctuated it with applause and Marine chants.
The brief press conference that Blumenthal ended abruptly was mostly devoted to praise of his own actions in which he claimed that his military service was voluntary. His statement admitting guilt was as follows: “On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service and I take full responsibility. I will not let anyone take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country.” He gave no reason for his lies about having been in Vietnam and offered no apology. And his friends behind him — who might otherwise be expected to take a dim view of those who falsely claim war-veteran status — demanded none. But the proposition that this group of veterans is representative of others around the state is yet to be proved.
This performance shows that Blumenthal’s intention is to stay in the Senate race and that he hopes the storm will blow over. However, as the New York Times story that blew the lid off of his lies shows, this one item may be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Blumenthal’s record. As the Times reported, Blumenthal appears to have misled journalists about other aspects of his biography.
This isn’t complicated. He’s an ambitious pol and he knew he could squeeze a few more votes out of the electorate by creating the impression that he served in ‘Nam. Evidently he’s been playing this game of hinting that he did without clearly saying so for years and years, with only occasional slip-ups of the in/during variety. That is to say, it sounds like he intended to deceive people all along, but chose his words carefully in all but a few instances to preserve plausible deniability in case he was ever called on this. He’s a seedy liar, but a clever one.
Now that the in/during mix-up is in vogue, I assume it’s also okay for people who went to college in Boston to say they went to school at Harvard. Because you know how easy it is to confuse “at” and “near.” Exit quotation from a Twitter pal: “Dick Blumenthal’s favorite Village People song is ‘During the Navy.’
Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic:
Blumenthal is correct that no one can control the articles that are printed about him. But surely this is a misdirection. Ambitious politicians have teams of communications professionals devoted to shaping, manipulating and repairing their public images. It is undoubtedly clear that Blumenthal sought out the identity of a Vietnam veteran, wrapped himself in that cloak, and used it to perpetuate his power. Even if he did not intend to mislead voters about his service, it is incumbent upon him to make sure that he did not use his position to perpetuate a myth that enhanced said power. To me, that DOES make him responsible for being accurate about his service record and going out of his way to correct the perceptional. Military service is threshold-honorable. But after that threshold is crossed, people judge you differently if they know you actively sought a position in a service that put your life in harm’s way. Blumenthal did not.
A tactical aside: Linda McMahon’s campaign planted the story with the New York Times and then bragged about it. Basic political gamesmanship: “If you land a hit like that on opponent you don’t brag about it an hour after. It undermines the story, the reporter, and no matter what the facts are, it lets the target of the hit say “This is Republican hit job. I’m not saying it. There campaign is bragging about it.” A complete rookie unforced error, one that might help Blumenthal keep his position in the race.
UPDATE: More on Blumenthal, Greg Sargent
UPDATE #2: Michael Scherer at Swampland at Time
Mary Katherine Ham at The Weekly Standard
UPDATE #3: On Blumenthal, James Craven at The New Britain Herald