POLITICAL PECADILLOES SEPTEMBER 11, 2013
In last night's New York City Democratic primary, Anthony "Sexting" Weiner lost. So did Eliot "Hooker" Spitzer. So did Vito Lopez and Micah Kellner, two state assemblymen ("pervy pols," in tabloid-ese) embroiled in sexual harassment scandals. It is tempting to do the reasonable thing, and consider each of those failed candidacies on their individual merits, as Maggie Haberman smartly did at Politico for Weiner and Spitzer. Or, we could give in to our baser instincts (and hey, these guys sure did!) and lump them all in together as "sexual miscreants." Since when is New York City a place where you can't be a sexual miscreant, and Louisiana (which continues to be served by David Vitter, who was himself served by a lady of the night) or South Carolina (which recently elected Mark Sanford, the most famous explorer of the Appalachian Trail, to the House) places where you can?
Sure, the nature of the sexual sins involved might have more than a little to do with it, as might the politicians' post-scandal behavior. But I think that it's not that the South has suddenly become "French," in its acceptance of sexual peccadilloes, as Slate cheekily declared in the wake of Sanford's re-election, and the North has become, I dunno, Irish. There is an American explanation. Places like Louisiana and South Carolina might be Bible-thumping, but a particular kind of Protestantism is far more influential in the Red States than it is in the Blue ones: born-again Christianity. There is a culture of publicly declaring and overcoming your sins that is very familiar to a lot of people there. And maybe we Yankees, even the non-New England ones of us, are still taking our cues from the Puritans, at least when it comes to politicians and their public sins. Sure, we make a lot of filthy jokes about Anthony's weiner, but, after all, what is a humiliating headline on the front page of the New York Post but a modern-day stocks and pillory in the public square?
Correction: A previous version of this article said that Sanford was elected to the Senate, not the House.