Not only is there a stark political divide between Democratic and Republican politicians on policy issues but also on sex scandals. What’s the difference, you ask? Simple: God.
No, I’m not saying Republican politicians claim that God told them to do it. Apparently, God only tells Republicans to run for president, not to cheat on their wives—at least not yet.
But when politicians get caught in these scandals—truly one of the only activities that unites elected officials from both parties—Democrats tend to talk about “therapy” and letting down constituents, while Republicans talk about the big guy upstairs.
One need look no further than South Carolina Republican Mark Sanford and New York Democrat Anthony Weiner, a.k.a. Carlos Danger. And for those who fault the Democrat for using that alias when he was having racy online chats with women after he resigned from Congress in 2011, when you have a name like Weiner, Carlos Danger is actually a step up.
This week Weiner addressed the new revelations at a hastily called press conference. The New York City mayoral candidate didn’t invoke God or any other supernatural force but spoke of more earthbound issues, such as asking for forgiveness from his wife and “asking New Yorkers to also give me another chance.” His wife, Huma Abedin, then spoke of all the therapy that helped them cope with the stress of enduring her husband’s scandal(s).
Even when Weiner kicked off his campaign for mayor in May, his acknowledgment of his earlier sexting scandal sounded like something you might hear from a city bus driver, not a preacher: “Look, I made some big mistakes. And I know I let a lot of people down. But I've also learned some tough lessons.”
Contrast that with Mark Sanford, who as governor of South Carolina disappeared for days and said he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Turns out he was in Argentina spending quality time with his mistress, who lived there.
When Sanford threw his hat back in the political ring earlier this year in a special election to fill a congressional seat, he addressed his past scandal in a more spiritual way: “… none of us go through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances, and be the better for it.”
And on the campaign trail before the May election, Sanford said he was aware of his human failings, adding, “But I am equally aware that God forgives people who are imperfect.”
Weiner sounded like a city bus driver, not a preacher: “Look, I made some big mistakes. And I know I let a lot of people down. But I've also learned some tough lessons.”
On the night of his victory, he brought it full circle: “I stand before you with a whole new appreciation for the God of second chances.”
God didn’t rate a mention when Eliot Spitzer resigned as governor of New York after he was caught frequenting prostitutes in 2008. But God did come up when Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) admitted committing “a very serious sin” with prostitutes: “I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife …” To Vitter, apparently, getting God’s forgiveness was a bigger priority than his wife’s.
So why does God only come into play in Republican sex scandals? Has God forsaken the Democrats? Are the Republican politicians who frequent prostitutes more pious than Democrats?
Politicians are playing to their base, of course. For Republicans, God is huge—he’s bigger than Honey Boo Boo, the guys from Duck Dynasty, and Ted Nugent rolled into one. And I would predict that among Democrats, especially those in New York City, more believe in therapy than in God. (For the record, I believe in God but am an agnostic about therapy.)
Where does that leave us? Expect to see more of the same. It worked for Sanford to invoke God in South Carolina, and it might just work for Weiner and/or Spitzer not to. Only God truly knows.