Sanford, Weiner, Spitzer: Our New Emperors With No Clothes

This just in: John Edwards is considering a third run for the Oval Office. No, not really. But, with Mark Sanford heading back to Congress, Anthony Weiner a strong candidate for New York City's next mayor, and Eliot Spitzer running for city comptroller, would anyone really be that surprised if Edwards were considering another bid for the presidency of the United States? (Or at least for governor of North Carolina.) Once we know how low a politician can go, there isn't much room for disappointment.

A couple of years ago, a career-destroying scandal seemed like it was just that: career-destroying. Given the events of these past few months, a visitor from the planet Mars could be forgiven for thinking that these scandals were more like a job qualification. Of course, in upstate New York, we're still waiting for the comebacks of Chris Lee and Eric Massa (of tickle-war fame).

Mark Sanford wanted to return to Washington with a story to tell about redemption, but it is actually more a story about voters' cynicism. It isn't a particularly new thing. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson may not have had much in common, but no one could have accused any of them of fidelity.

That being said, it is a bit puzzling that voters keeping casting ballots for the Sanfords and Spitzers of the world, even while the scandals are the main things that voters know about them. It might actually perversely help them. Sanford, Weiner, and Spitzer might be moral turpitude incarnate, but, if nothing else, we know who they are and what they stand for and there is very little chance, at this point, of being disappointed in any moral lapses that they make.

Does this mean that America has given up on electing anyone with a shred of dignity? Maybe not. Maybe it just means that Americans have accepted — or at least forced themselves to believe — that there aren't enough dignified individuals in the country to fill the roll of all our dignitaries.

Perhaps it is what it is, but if we are going to confer the title "The Honorable" on Mark Sanford and Anthony Weiner, then I certainly hope that we make them keep the quotation marks around the word.

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James Banks

is a Rochester-based writer. He is a former contributor to "The American Interest" Online and has written for "The Weekly Standard," "The Intercollegiate Review" and other publications. He works in web communications and is a doctoral student at the University of Rochester.

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