California Assemblyman Michael Duvall, who resigned Wednesday after TV broadcast tape of him boasting of his extramarital sexual trysts to a fellow lawmaker, is just the latest in a string of conservative politicians to be involved in a sex scandal.
But with so many champions of family values falling from grace – from South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford to Sen. John Ensign (R) of Nevada to former GOP Sen. Larry Craig – is the movement taking a hit at all?
Mr. Duvall, a Republican who is married with two adult children, was caught on tape speaking in detail about women he had purportedly slept with. Duvall has since denied any affairs and said his offense was “engaging in inappropriate story telling and I regret my language and choice of words.”
“Their self-appointed status as champions of ‘family values’ has denigrated, invalidated, and most definitely diminished their political movement’s family-values trump card,” says Carleton Kendrick, a parenting expert with 30 years of experience.
The public has come to expect hypocrisy from politicians, but family values falls in a different category, say some political scientists.
“I expect to see more self-policing on the religious right in order to protect the family values brand name," he adds. "More and more hypocrites like Duvall will be thrown under the bus. Governor Sanford of South Carolina may be next. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana should be worrying.”
But public relations and media specialists say the cause remains untouched.
“Family values are family values. Just because someone doesn’t live up to them doesn’t mean they don’t stand,” says Tim Graham, director of media analysis for Media Research Center, the largest media watchdog organization in America. “Mr. Duvall’s reputation as a champion of that is totally shot, of course.”
All that these scandals show, adds Mr. Graham, is that “there are people whose egos grow so large they think they are invincible … they live in a world where they begin to feel so privileged as a human being that the rules of normal people no longer apply.”
Still, other observers say it is partly the pressure to live up to publicly professed positions that actually creates the inclination to stray.
“The effect of excessive public virtue is an obvious psychological cover for discomfort with aspects of one’s own behavior and character,” says Solon Simmons, an assistant professor at the Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution at George Mason University in Arlington, Va. “By controlling others, the true believer attempts to heal himself and often does terrible violence along the way.”
“But it is natural for us to hope that more of our political leaders could be good examples of living out what they profess,” he adds.
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