'Mom, Dad—I Need $96K'

John Ensign admitted this week that his parents paid off his mistress. The Daily Beast’s Kathleen Parker wonders how exactly the senator hit up his aging parents for money.

I keep going over it in my head. How exactly does a 51-year-old man approach his parents and ask them to pay his mistress $96,000 in—lacking a better term—hush money?

Senator John Ensign’s admission that his parents paid his ex-lover almost 100K over eight installments just because she and her husband—both former staff members of the U.S. senator—are such good friends, forces the question: What have we got against shame?

Ensign did have sex with that woman. Her husband did find out about it. And, well, what’s a few K among friends?

His handwritten letter to his former paramour, Cindy Hampton, apparently to confess his sin, is a staggering work of narcissistic indulgence that makes South Carolina Governor Mark Stanford look like John Keats.

One surmises, however, that Ensign, a Pentecostal Christian member of Promise Keepers, didn’t have enough dough and had to turn to dear ol’ dad, a casino executive, to bail him out. How would that little transaction have gone?

Dad, Mom, I’ve got a little problem. No, too sudden, scratch that.

Mom, Dad, you two are the most amazing parents in the world. I can’t believe you’re, what, almost 90 now? Wow. If I . . . No, no, not that. Too patronizing. Mom’ll see right through it.

Mother. Father. I don’t know how to tell you this, but I’ve just gotten some really bad news. Forgive me for telling you this way, but I just found out I have only three months to live and I need to get my affairs in order. Much as I hate to ask, I’m going to need a little financial help.

Kidding, kidding! Well, that last part was true. I’m not going to die, I hope, but, I do have a smallish complication.

Bailing out children is a time-honored tradition among parents, though not usually into said child’s 50s. We do what we can when Skipper loses her lunch money, pay for college if we can, help out with the first-day-at-work suit. But paying off a girlfriend well into middle-age?

Dad has to be at least 70 and probably much older, possibly in his 80s. The sort of groveling one imagines taking place is repulsive to consider. Then again, Ensign has no true shame and less dignity. His handwritten letter to his former paramour, Cindy Hampton, apparently to confess his sin, is a staggering work of narcissistic indulgence that makes South Carolina Governor Mark Stanford look like John Keats.

First he tells the woman that this is the most important letter “that I’ve ever written,” yet doesn’t trouble himself to insert a “Dear” before Cindy, followed by a comma. Just: Cindy

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Then he states the obvious, that he was “completely self-centered” (and that’s changed?). But worse, worser and worst, he says, “I used you for my own pleasure.” Whereupon every woman between the shining seas gagged in unison: Achhhhh.

No wonder Cindy and husband, Doug Hampton, demanded money from this chump. First you insult the man by sleeping with his wife, then you insult them both by saying you only used her? At least Sanford lost his mind in head-over-heels LUV. Ensign didn’t have the decency to fake affection.

I suppose a parent's love is never exhausted, as long as there’s hope around the bend. But is there anything less manly than an adult male who can’t even manage his own affair? And how does one calculate the value of a woman’s company? I’m not sure what’s more insulting to the Hamptons—a letter that doesn’t so much as hint that Cupid won the war of wills, or the low, low price of $96,000 for the use of another man’s wife.

Yet another victim keeps getting dragged through the muck of these tawdry confessions. Can one ever say, “poor God?” Probably not. God has his ways of evening out the score—and one waits with baited schadenfraude and trembling. But, really. In his letter to Cindy, “Sincerely John” channels none other than He Who Isn’t Much Obeyed. Yes, yes, he threw away his friendship with Doug, wrote Ensign. And yes, he betrayed everything he believed in. He even “justified his actions because I blamed my wife.” For what, he didn’t say.

And, finally, he’s a sinner. But it wasn’t God’s fault. (Well thank heaven for that). Wrote Ensign: “God never intended for us to do this.”

True that, no doubt. Only the grandiosity of a narcissist permits the thought that God is concerned about where people like John Ensign or Mark Sanford park their little erector sets.

Ensign may be sincere when he says that he walked away from God and that his relationship with Him has suffered terribly. But for the senator to say that he “knows” what God wants puts one in mind of strategic thunderbolts. What Ensign knows is that God loves him and Cindy, and He just wants everybody to get back together with his and her respective spouses because, well, that’s the kind of guy God is.

Likewise, Sanford decided not to step down from his position as governor of South “Insane Asylum” Carolina, because God wants him to stay. Said Sanford:

"Immediately after all this unfolded last week I had thought I would resign—as I believe in the military model of leadership and when trust of any form is broken one lays down the sword. A long list of close friends have suggested otherwise—that for God to really work in my life I shouldn't be getting off so lightly."

I would never presume to know what God wants. Like most fathers, he probably just wants to be left alone. But when men like Sanford and Ensign publicly invoke God in the same breath that they humiliate themselves and their families, it sort of devalues the divine currency.

If God is a man, he wants Al Neri to take both men fishing. If She is a woman, well, Hell hath something to learn about fury.

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and author of Save the Males.