Ethics Dunces: Voters In South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District

Oh, thank you, South Carolina...No sooner do I get my head put back together, and you make it explode AGAIN...

Oh, thank you, South Carolina…No sooner do I get my head put back together, and you make it explode AGAIN…

The news that disgraced ex-South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, who showed that he would abandon his duties, lie to his constituency, misuse public funds, enlist state-paid staff in a personal deception and betray his wife and children was nonetheless deemed fit for election to the U.S. House of Representatives, while disgusting, is certainly well-timed for this forum.

Today some commenters on Ethics Alarms took the dubious ethical position that one ought to vote for a candidate’s “ideas” rather than his or her character, record, experience, values, talent or abilities. I surmise, then, that they now believe that those who voted for Mark Sanford because they agree with his political views were being responsible, despite the fact that the man is spectacularly, John Edwards-ly untrustworthy in every way.

Mark Sanford did not deserve a single vote. He has disqualified himself from the public trust. Oh, he has lots of ideas, probably some good ones, too, not that I care, and not that it should matter. Our leaders should be exemplary, role models, determined and capable of embodying the best of the American mind, ambition and values. Mark Sanford, in contrast, is a leader of whom you say to to your children, “Don’t be like him.”

And also, “Watch your back!”

True, the Democrats might have helped the voters in the First District to find their ethical compass if the party had not made a cynical appeal to the trivial, young, celebrity-obsessed voter who believes governance is a big joke. Sanford’s opponent, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, was made the standard bearer because her brother is a popular comedian and political satirist—how’s that for degrading democracy? Never mind…Sanford should have been defeated by her, Paris Hilton, Octomom, Betty Boop or Barb Wire, and would have been, if the Republicans in the First District had any ethical standards that they cared about more than holding on to the House by any means necessary.


Facts: USA Today

44 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: Voters In South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District

  1. While this is a particularly bad example it’s far from the only one. Not less disgusting, but sadly, very common these days. And, maybe always. The ethics violations are enough to go around including the low or no information voters who voted along party lines. If you vote you owe it to other voters to know the issues.

    • How is this “very common”? Is Eliot Spitzer in Congress? Rod Blogojevich? John Ensign? Give me three examples of former Governors or Senators who left office after a blatant scandal and were shortly after elected to Congress.

      • I was referring to politicians who keep their jobs or get reelected after scandals. Marion Barry, Barney Frank, Teddy Kennedy, John Murtha, Gerry Studds, John McCain, David, Vitter I’m sure there are many more at state and local levels. If you want to be very specific about the exact circumstances I guess you can go there, but it doesn’t mean similar things don’t happen at many levels. Why the outrage?

          • No, not Gingrich. Gingrich has been elected to nothing since his despicable conduct with his first wife and his illicit affair with a staffer came to light. He resigned as Speaker, and he’s been a talking head ever since.

              • No, he doesn’t. A primary isn’t an office, and neither is a straw poll or a caucus. My challenge was elections. Gingrich’s miserable character is the main reason he’s been out of power—give the people some credit.

        • “Why the outrage?” All of these were outrageous. Are you under the bizarre impression that the more frequent irresponsible conduct is, the less outrageous it becomes? If anything, the opposite is true. Check the rationalization list, for heaven’s sake. “Everybody does it!” is the most damaging and insidious of all the rationalizations for excusing misconduct, and you are giving it a big hug.

      • Who says Eliot Spitzer and John Ensign won’t reappear one day? The only reason Blago won’t is that he’s now a convicted felon and presumably barred from holding public office, and he will still have his defenders until the day he dies who will claim he got railroaded. Partisan loyalty trumps all in a lot of cases, and even in the case of blatant affairs it’s very easy to feed the public the line of “come on, that was a long time ago.” Gingrich is the only one who was kicked out and stayed out.

  2. He’s very big on “Family Values”.

    The South Carolina Republican Party considers the sacred institution of marriage as fundamental to the stability, betterment and perpetuation of our society. Many economic, emotional, and physical ills in our culture could be avoided if abstinence before and faithfulness in marriage were the standard of behavior

    Click to access SCGOP-Platform-Adopted-2012.pdf


  3. Unfortunately, Jack, caring about politician’s character went out with the Dems’ defense of ol’ Bill, which boiled down to character doesn’t matter as long as this guy toes the party line. After a string of reverses I’m not sorry to see this logic come back on the Dems’ heads.

    • Exactly. You need to “move on” Jack. “In Europe, they wouldn’t care about this and neither should we.” “His wife is okay with it so we should be too.” Oh, wait a minute, his wife divorced him. “But he current wife or girlfriend is okay with it so we should be too.” Hahahahahahaha. This is Bill Clinton’s and all his enablers’ legacy to the American people. Wilbur Mills disappeared, Bill Clinton is still around. I guess Harold Ickes won. They’ve spawned an entire generation of ends justify the means pols. Terrible.

      • You correctly discerned that the phrase “move on” drives me wild, though I don’t think I’ve ever written about it. “Move-On,Org” gets one credit from me: at least it carries its unethical instincts up front, so all can see.

        • Amen. “Move on” is the WORST. I’d think you could write an ethics book about it. As a minor point, I disagree regarding your last statement. I think it’s a terribly, terribly cynical name. Morons like Bill Maher and his followers seem to think “moving on” is a very noble and morally superior concept, untainted by anything unethical. Depressing.

          • It’s only a noble and morally superior concept when it’s their guy in the crosshairs. The media and the left kept chomping down on the Valerie Plame non-affair, in which no one was killed and no high-profile people were directly involved, like rabid dogs long after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald decided there was no basis for criminal charges against Richard Armitage, the actual leaker. But when Bill Clinton was playing swallow the leader when he should have ben leading and lying under oath, suddenly we all needed to move on. Now that it’s both golden boy Obama and future Madame President Hilary in the crosshairs AND someone got killed it’s a “witch hunt” and we all need to sit down, shut up, and move on. The hypocrisy stinks worse than a bait shack at low tide.

  4. I think the ethics mistakes were made during the primary, by not nominating a new candidate.

    Once the general election occurs its hard to determine what the ethical considerations were…

    Do you vote for an individual who engage in extramarital affairs or do you vote for someone who will vote against what you think the interests of the nation are?

    • That’s a minimization of what Sanford did. The affair is forgivable. Lying to the media and the public, taking off on a secret trip to South America when he’s supposed to be serving the people of South Carolina, using public funds for his exotic fling and showing no remorse whatsoever is not. He’s not trustworthy, and this is a public trust. Slam dunk.

      • You are accurate. I didn’t mean to minimize the totality of his behavior. I merely assert that the mistake was made in primary not replacing him with a more virtuous candidate because all they did was establish a scenario of being stuck between a rock and a hard place come Election Day.

      • If your preferred candidate by ideology engaged in the exact same behavior as Sanford and the person running against him or her was pro-torture, against raising taxes of any kind, for increasing entitlement spending, for the deportation of every illegal immigrant and their children, for the legalization of drugs, against homosexual marriage, and other items you feel are absolutely against the Marion’s interests…

        Who do you vote for?

        • Well, Marion Barry’s interests should be opposed, so he’d get credit for that. (Don’t you love Spellcheck?

          It would still be an easy call. Who knows what liars stand for? Obama promised transparency! I’d hold my nose and vote for the honest candidate whose positions stink. At least I’d know what I was getting, and I have faith in democracy—the most extreme positions wouldn’t get anywhere. I’d rather vote for a lawn chair, but a lawn chair wouldn’t be running.

  5. I’ve suggested it before, but we really need to figure out a way to highlight (and encourage) ethical challengers who share similar policy prescriptions as their more famous nonethical brethren (since neither the mainstream media nor the party machines see fit to do so).

  6. As I am one of the people with “dubious” ethical views here, I will respond. 🙂 I won’t write a post advocating voting for Sanford (it’s too hard pretending to be a conservative), but I’ll take the other jerk mentioned, John Edwards. ****And please, no one attack the merits of the political arguments below — this is from the viewpoint of what a voter might “believe” walking into the voting booth. This could have been written from the conservative viewpoint and been equally valid.

    Okay. Let’s imagine that Edwards somehow finds his way back into the next presidential race. During the primary season, I would vociferously and financially support one of his opponents — someone who stands both for my political views and meets an objectively higher standard of personal morality. Suppose, however, that Edwards emerges triumphant at the end of the cycle. Ugh.

    Now, a dynamicTea Party candidate — I’ll call him “Rick” Paul (I can’t use Rand, because he has some ethical problems of his own) somehow wins the Republican primary. Rick looks a lot like Rand (except with better hair) and he is a model citizen and has been in public service most of his adult life. He mows his neighbors lawns, gives lots of money to charity, has never cheated on his taxes, is a loving father and husband, and builds houses for the needy in his spare time. His campaign finance record is spotless and he has even refused donations from all PACs. Wow.

    Here’s the problem. Rick is planning on eliminating ALL welfare programs (except for Social Security — which will phase out over the next 20 years), is going to disband the Fed, put us back on the gold standard, eliminate all regulation (no more FTC or SEC), propose a flat 10% tax, will immediately remove all troops from overseas, cut all foreign aid, slash or eliminate a host of other federal agencies, and has announced that his administration will not challenge any state nullification decision for those federal laws he deems unconstitutional. Now, of course, he can’t do this all on his own without Congress – but he can do considerable damage and he has also energized the Republican base in Congress.

    Experts on both sides predict that his social and economic policies alone would plunge millions more Americans into poverty, actual starvation, and rampant untreated mental and physical illnesses. Crime rates will soar. Oh, and the dollar would crash too. Given the uncertainty of the dollar, even wealthier states might not be able to provide some of the most needed social programs. Oh — and foreign relations? The only prediction for the moment is chaos.

    I wouldn’t want to date Edwards, shake his hand — heck, I wouldn’t even give him a ride if I saw him stranded on the side of the road. But would I vote for him in this scenario? Yep. I think that it would be the moral and responsible thing to do — because although a politician’s ethics are important, the policies that affect millions of people are even more important.

    • Well, what can I say—it’s a foolish decision, and terrible reasoning. Edwards is affirmatively dangerous, a borderline sociopath, and obviously a liar. You have no idea what he really believes in, other than himself. He was willing to risk the Democratic party and the stability of the electoral process by continuing to seek high office after his affair and love child were known to his staff and wife. He lied repeatedly to the press and the public. Rand Paul is an idiot, but he doesn’t have the power to do what he might have on his wish list, and by all appearances, he is a decent and honest man. The choice you posit isn’t a very attractive one, but your logic would have you voting for Jeffrey Daumer or Adam Lanza as long as either talked like a good progressive.

      • Convicted serial killers? A little absurd, don’t you think Jack? Okay fine! I’d have to vote for Paul over a Daumer/Lanza ticket if that were my choice — I don’t vote for crazy people or mass murderers in general. I don’t think Edwards is crazy, but I do think he is an egotistlcal jerk and a liar. I can’t blame him for his ego though — that’s a prereq for all politicians. I can blame him for the lying and blatant misuse of campaign funds though. For what it’s worth, I think you would be taking a bigger risk than me in my hypothetical above. And if my terrible reasoning leads to a good or even okay result, I think that’s better than fantastic/principled reasoning leading to a horrible result.

        • Arrgh. You just endorsed consequentialism—if it works out for the best, then it wasn’t wrong. Deeper and deeper.

          Calling John Edwards a liar is like calling Bernie Madoff a crook.

          • I didn’t endorse it — it’s not my guiding principle — I’m making the best of a bad situation. Each and every time I go to the polls, I want to vote for a qualified, moral candidate whose policies aren’t going to result in … say, lots of starving children. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. We need better candidates — but to be blessed by the Dems or Repubs means towing the party line and not being true to one’s own beliefs. So, the majority of the time, we have egomaniacs who will compromise values in order to get the nomination. Do our candidates even know what they believe in anymore? So, if I have to choose between the lesser of two evils, I’ll pick the one where we’ll have less starving children. Because at the end of the day they all look like party puppets to me.

            • But you are automatically assuming the worst. Why, if ‘Rick’ Paul is such a good, upstanding guy, does he hold those positions? Does he secretly desire to starve the children? YOU believe that his policies would be terribly destructive – but HE doesn’t. If you actually listened to him, looked at the numbers he was looking at, examined the studies he saw WITHOUT dismissing them automatically as ‘partisan drivel.’ You might just realize he has a case. Not that he’s right, but that he’s actually assessed the situation, and come up with a different best course of action than you.

              “Do our candidates even know what they believe in anymore? So, if I have to choose between the lesser of two evils, I’ll pick the one where we’ll have less starving children.” You just defined Rick Paul as being very clear on what he believes. You defined him as being honest, and forthright, and clear. But because you’re convinced that he is evil because he disagrees with you, you would rather vote for the swindler, con-man, machiavellian, corrupt, untrustworthy, demonic, sure-to-stab-you-in-the-back Mephistopheles, because he tells you what you want to hear, and you agree with him.

              But THEY’RE the party puppets. Got it. You’re just voting the party line because the other side is evil – well, ok, not evil, he’s actually quite good – but certainly they want to starve children – ok, so he volunteers in the soup kitchen in his free time – I mean, his policies are so stupid they can’t stand a chance of anything but disaster – except where they’ve been applied and actually seem to be working quite well. But he’s one of THEM!

              What was the phrase? Useful something-or-others?

              • You missed the whole exercise here. As I mentioned at the beginning of my comment — a conservative could have written the same post in favor of Sanford because that person believes in Sanford’s policies. So, if that person believes that Sanford would be better for the State, perhaps he/she should vote for Sanford even though Sanford is deeply flawed. Got it? Let me put it another way — do I think Tea Partiers want to starve children? No. Do I think that would be the effect of their policies if passed? Yes. So, absent certain circumstances (Jack’s serial killer as the opposing candidate is an easy one), I’d “probably” vote for the Democrat. And as for my partisan beliefs, I was raised in a very libertarian (now Tea Party) household. I know the issues very well (my facebook feed is maddening), and I actually don’t disagree with them on every point — just like I don’t agree with the Democrats on every policy. Sheesh.

            • False choice. Of course I do. And I believe the consequences of electing officials of poor character who are demonstrably untrustworthy is predictably undesirable, regardless of their announced positions.

              • So much for FDR, LBJ, Thomas Jefferson, MLK Jr, and Eisenhower as leaders, then.

                I don’t the world,or people, are that one-dimensional. Sometimes someone can both have personal flaws and be a good leader. And most often, an election is a choice between two flawed people, not a demon and a saint.

                In the real world, what a President does usually depends more on their political position and the pressures on them, then it does on individual character traits. If Hilary Clinton instead of Barack Obama were President, for instance, then I think Hilary Clinton would have been the first President to endorse same-sex marriage. Because Obama’s endorsement had little to do with Obama personally, and instead had a lot to do with the pressure from the Democratic base and pro-lgbt groups.

                Similarly, no Republican president, no matter how non-homophobic he is personally, would be willing to endorse SSM at this point in history.

                So yes, even if someone is untrustworthy in many ways, we can still make reliable predictions about the general sorts of policy a president will support. Presidents are not free agents; they are constrained actors within a system. It is legitimate and ethical to vote in part based on how a president will act regarding policy.

                • 1. If you’re talking only about infidelity in marriage, that is not a sign of complete character blight, and you owe Ike an apology. There is no reliable evidence that puts him in this crowd, even accepting your premise. just rumors, slander, and hearsay from Harry Truman. Jefferson in fact wasn’t trustworthy, as his record as Governor of Virginia shows, and no, I would vote for him. MLK was a movement leader, which is very different from being an executive. LBJ, in fact, wasn’t trustworthy either, which is how he got in trouble with the Vietnam war—lying his head off.

                  2. “In the real world, what a President does usually depends more on their political position and the pressures on them, then it does on individual character traits.” This is true of the weak and mediocre leaders, not of the great ones—Washington, Monroe, Jackson, Polk, Lincoln, Teddy, FDR, Truman, Reagan. It’s a great dodge to excuse poor leaders by minimizing the good ones, but history says you’re wrong.

                  3. And no Republican would go to China. I don’t believe that the possibility of a courageous, principled Republican wouldn’t endorse SSM, though that’s hardly a litmus test. Chris Christie might, for example.

      • Certainly, if a candidate has shown himself to be corrupt, deceitful, and a pathological liar, there’s no way one can trust his actual beliefs to align with what he says. But I don’t see why a voter should then opt to support somebody whose positions are trustworthy, if the voter confidently believes that those positions would cause harm. That’s like choosing to spend ten minutes in the agony booth instead of taking the mystery box, which might contain something like a dozen live snakes or a suit of rusty nails and razor blades.

        When the electoral process becomes a process of holding your nose and swallowing your revulsion at your own displays of support, it’s worth remembering that there are in fact third-party candidates. These may not be viable at present, but I regard throwing one’s vote away as better than voting in direct contradiction to one’s conscience. Yes, a district without good major-party options gets stuck with the lesser of two evils anyway. But it’s consequentialism whichever way you go on that. Either it works out for the best because the corrupt guy didn’t get away with much, or it works out for the best because the honestly misguided guy didn’t get much of his damaging legislation through.

        • The part I have troubles with is the “But I don’t see why a voter should then opt to support somebody whose positions are trustworthy, if the voter confidently believes that those positions would cause harm.”

          They’re trustworthy. They’re honest. They’re good. They’re ethical. They’re diligent. They’re up to their neck in pertinant facts. They have the same meta-goals I do. And I cannot vote for them becuase I – who have read two articles, a wikipedia page, and an entire comments thread on the topic – am certain that their plan can only end in failure. That all the logic that lead to them making the choice to stand where they do is based in lies and manipulation. So instead of voting for them, I instead vote for the one I KNOW’s only stock in trade is lies and manipulation.

          And then the system breaks more, and I get to complain that all politicians are liars and disreputable. Crazy idea – vote for the honest guy, and see if his crazy (to my eyes) plan works better than the status quo. At least then we’d have reputable, hardworking representatives. Better than the current system of voting for the dishonest snake with the plans that NO ONE thinks will work, even he, himself.

          • Did you respond to the right comment, Aaron? I didn’t actually advocate voting for the corrupt guy if you agree with him. I actually would advocate for the sort of open-mindedness you’re describing. Open-mindedness is one of my favorite things. But not everybody is capable of it in any measure, and it’s not reasonable to expect it to the extent that it constitutes a sort of betrayal of your most deeply held beliefs. I’d rather people didn’t make hyperbolic statements about the disastrous effects of policies they don’t agree with, but assuming you really, truly believe – on the basis of what you consider to be sound evidence – that those effects can be expected, then “he’s a good guy” isn’t sufficient grounds for voting for someone who advances those initiatives. That still doesn’t mean that it’s okay to vote for a known psychopath who just happens to be endorsed by your party.

  7. An this is why we need viable third parties and access to the ballots. In a few elections with such choices, I have voted Libertarian when I was in a state that had ballot access. The Libertarians seem to select their local candidates by randomly calling people in the phone book to find someone who will agree to run. The problems is, our ‘government’ elections are teated as if they are owned by two noble houses. If you don’t get the endorsement of the noble house, you can’t run. Don’t tell me you can just get a massive polling effort together, get 70,000 signatures, and get on the ballot (for each and every candidate). What if ALL candidates had to do this? But you’re not done, the signatures have to be verified by an official who is a member of one of the noble houses (and no, you can’t check their math). Until we show the two major parties that we are not their peasants and we will vote for third parties, we are going to keep getting these losers.

  8. All I can say is that the voters of that district were left with one hell of a choice; a fluff-brained wife-of-celebrity Democrat with zero qualifications for anything… or a slick Republican who betrayed his family, his state and every Republican in the country who had come to admire his public stances on the issues. In the final talley, the voters were pretty well forced to settle for the known evil. Not a choice I’d have cared to make. Perhaps a better choice will present itself in 2014. Likely, it will. God willing, Mr. Sanford will be enjoying his last, short hurrah before the books close on his ill-disposed career.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.