Walter Jones, Congressman from North Carolina’s 3rd district for the past 20 years, in a letter to Cathy McMorris Rodgers, chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, called on candidates for leadership to withdraw if aware of “any misdeeds” likely to embarrass the House. His office characterized these “misdeeds” as “moral turpitude issues,” but he seemed to have marital infidelity particularly in mind. Two days later, Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the Speaker’s race.
Good for Jones. Why shouldn’t the Republican Speaker of the House be held to a standard of marital fidelity? The old bromide is that personal behavior has nothing to do with one’s official duties — and that such a standard would have deprived the country of the services of John Kennedy as president. But then Seymour Hersh’s “The Dark Side of Camelot” reveals that Kennedy’s dalliances put national security at considerable risk.
In January of 1989, George H. W. Bush nominated John Tower as Secretary of Defense. This nomination was opposed by Paul Weyrich, one of the most morally serious men ever to participate in the political mosh pit of Washington.
Weyrich told the Senate Armed Services Committee, “It is unrealistic to expect moral behavior in matters of public trust from someone who does not exhibit such behavior in his personal life. Private morals have public effects.” The Tower nomination was defeated on the floor of the Senate, the first in 30 years.
Paul Weyrich later reflected on his opposition to Tower (and I am paraphrasing here): “time and again I have been told, ‘this man may be flawed, but he’s our flawed guy.’ I have found that flawed people never end up doing a thing for the conservatives who put them there.”
So thank you, Mr. Jones, for standing up for moral standards. If one wants to be a philandering Member of Congress, there’s always the Democratic Party.
Steve Wagner is president of QEV Analytics, a public opinion research firm, and a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.