Do ‘family affairs’ matter to the religious right?

Remember family values?

You know, all those traditional straitlaced behaviors embraced and espoused by the political and religious right during the last several elections that made them uniquely fit to steer the ship of state?

Things like honesty, integrity, adherence to the sacred bonds of matrimony regardless of the rough patches . . . .

Oh, wait, that last one is, well, kind of inoperative, as it turns out, and obviously reflects poorly on the others, but then the God of Christian conservatives is a forgiving God, as long as one is a member of their club.

So we recently saw would-be presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who remains wildly popular with that segment of the political spectrum, admit to having committed adultery with one of his Congressional staffers several years ago, at the same time he was leading the charge to impeach then- President Clinton for essentially the same conduct. (Gingrich makes a distinction, however, explaining that Clinton was impeached for lying, not for having adulterous sex. But there are certainly lies of omission as well as commission, so to many — including me — his is a distinction without a substantive difference: Gingrich lied to his wife, and to an indignant public that believed he occupied a morally superior position.)

When asked quite gently if these staffer-sex allegations were true by Dr. James Dobson on his radio show Focus on the Family (Or is it Family Affair? Or All in the Family?), the former Speaker of the House responded that “the honest answer is yes.” (And the dishonest answer was remaining silent and letting constituents assume the best.)

It was Newt’s second wife that he cheated on, but his first didn’t fare too well either when it came to unethical spousal behavior. Mr. Heart of Stone served her with divorce papers while she was hospitalized for cancer. (He now claims he doesn’t remember doing this, although his former wife retains a vivid memory of the incident.) And even his third wife, the staffer 20 years his junior, got dumped several years ago after the bloom of their M a y / December romance withered.

But that’s all okay with the poobahs of the right, such as former Moral Majority (perhaps to be renamed the Reformed Morals Majority) leader Rev. Jerry Falwell, who fell all over himself to assure his flock that Gingrich had confessed to him the same adulterous behavior at the time, and appeared to be genuinely contrite.

“. . . he has also told me that he has, in recent years, come to grips with his personal failures and sought God’s forgiveness,” Falwell wrote in a recent newsletter to his flock. He added that he can generally tell when a man who has experienced “moral collapse” is sincere about seeking forgiveness, and assessed Gingrich as “such a man.” (In other words, don’t count it against him when you go to the polls.)

But Gingrich isn’t the only Republican conservative with presidential aspirations to have been seduced by temptations of the flesh and the lure of freedom from marital commitment.

Take Rudy Giuliani — America’s mayor most remembered for walking amongst the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11 and providing comfort and support to his wounded city at the same time President Bush was hiding in Idaho and Dick Cheney was bunkered down at another secret location in case his snarling style of leadership was needed.

Giuliani is also remembered by some as the mayor who encouraged New York police to disregard the niceties of law enforcement, resulting in such memorable outrages as his cops shooting an innocent, unarmed man 40- some times as he stood in the lobby of his apartment building trying to get out his wallet (We thought he was going for a gun, they claimed) and treating another suspect of similar dusky complexion to a buggering with a toilet plunger.

But never mind that, back to the subject at hand. Giuliani has also been married, divorced, married, had an affair, divorced, and is now married to “the other woman.” His second wife actually filed for a restraining order to prevent Rudy’s mistress from living in the mayor’s mansion while she and he were still married, so Rudy moved in with two gay friends for a while. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.) Additionally one of Rudy’s grown sons recently complained that he hadn’t been much of a father to him, but that is just the opinion of a maladjusted child.

Then there is Sen. John McCain, war hero and former straight-talking presidential candidate, who is taking a different tack this time by pandering to the religious right, giving the commencement address at Falwell’s Liberty University after formerly referring to the minister as an “agent of intolerance.”

McCain has also admitted to having an affair with his current wife while still married to his former spouse. And that makes it three for three in the posturing- by-rank-hypocrites department.

In fact, only Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who is considered a “first-tier” presidential candidate despite him polling behind Gingrich, has had the minimum of one wife to whom, remarkably, he apparently has remained faithful, even though he is undoubtedly more of a babe magnet than all the other pudgy, pasty philanderers combined. (The joke going around is that Romney, a Mormon, is the only major GOP candidate who’s had just one wife.)

Strangely enough, on the Democratic side of the coin, no major candidate has been divorced, and as far as is known, none of the four – Hillary Clinton, Barak Obama, John Edwards and the coy Al Gore – has strayed from the marital bed.

All of which puts devout adherents of those “traditional family values” in quite a bind, I would imagine.

Regardless of their Very Right pastors giving these conservative candidates a bye on their wretched behavior, their faithful flocks, who are always looking for someone they can truly believe in (Jesus in an Armani suit, perhaps) may well consider crossing the political divide and voting for monogamy rather than for those who have been consumed by lust — perhaps the deadliest of the seven sins for politicians with presidential ambitions.

David Grant Long writes from Cortez, Colo.

From April 2007, David Long.