En-Sign Of The Times

The spectacular rise, fall and flame-out of John Ensign

By Robert A. George
|  Friday, Jun 19, 2009  |  Updated 12:13 AM EDT
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Shame on You

AP

Se. John Ensign, R-Nev. speaks about an extramarital affair at a news conference in Las Vegas.

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Even by Washington "standards," Nevada Sen. John Ensign may take the cake for combination of hubris, hypocrisy and sleaziness in an extra-marital affair.

Hubris: At the time of the affair, as head of Republican Policy Conference, he was the fourth-ranking Republican senator. He stepped down from the position Wednesday.  But, he visited Iowa just two weeks ago in a trip sparking much speculation of a 2012 presidential run.  Some folks think that he's hoping that getting the story out now will make it old news by 2012.  Um, don't think so because of the sordid details of this particular affair (more of which below). 

Hypocrisy: Ensign was once a member of the Promise Keepers evangelical group, which rose to prominence in the mid-90s with a "Million Man March" style rally on the Washington Mall. The men pledge to "stay right" with God -- including vows of "sexual purity" and "strong marriages." Ensign was also one of many Republicans who demanded that Bill Clinton resign after the president finally admitted his affair with a White House intern.  In fairness to Ensign, however, that was after Clinton famously told the country, eight months before, "I did not have sex with that woman...Miss Lewinsky."  Tuesday's announcement was Ensign's way of making his own affair public first.

Sleazy details: Alas, while the hypocrisy meter vis a vis Clinton isn't overwhelmingly against Ensign, the actual details of this affair place him pretty high up on the Cad-o-meter. His wife might give him a pass because they were separated at the time.  However, not only did Ensign stray with a married woman who was working on his campaign -- she was the wife of an Ensign staffer on the congressional side! Evidently, in Nevada, "doubling down" has a meaning completely separate from its gambling connotations. 

Actually there is precedent for this activity --  straying with one staffer who happens to be married to another. That was most famously pioneered by Democratic mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom, who hooked up with his former appointments secretary, the wife of his chief of staff (and supposed best friend). For such men as Ensign and Newsom, adultery without the added thrill of humiliating someone else who works for you just isn't worth it.  

Evidently, the only reason Ensign came forward is to circumvent an alleged blackmail plot from his mistress' husband. 

Let's admit that there's no way that blackmail should be condoned. But, if you learn your boss is having an affair with your wife -- who also works for him, ripping apart your marriage and -- even in the best possible outcome -- forcing both of you to get other jobs when/if the affair ends, one kind of understands why the injured party might approach the philanderer for some sort of restitution. 

Or, to paraphrase the classic words of Chris Rock, "I'm not saying he should have done it -- but I understand."

Nope, sorry, I don't think Republican primary voters are going to be able to overlook this particular transgression when the primary culling period begins. 

New York writer Robert A. George blogs at Ragged Thots; follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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