Many of us are too young to remember when the Republicans wrested the morality argument out of the Democrats' reach, but we know how it happened.
Sex. Intrigue. Interns. “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” said in a deep, southern, Bill Clinton voice.
The scandal, of course, was Clinton got a blow job or seven from his intern Monica Lewinsky -- an offense enough of the Senate deemed worthy of impeachment.
Clinton ended up getting acquitted and serving out the rest of his term, but one of the major results of the whole thing was the Republican Party laying a strong claim to the morals of the country.
There's a fair amount of irony in there, though, and you don't even have to look all that hard. Newt Gingrich, one of the loudest crusaders against the flailing president, was widely known to have been having an affair even as he chased after Clinton for chasing skirt.
Hell, he even divorced his first wife while she was in the hospital after having cancer surgery. He says something about turning to God and praying, and his political career goes on. When John Edwards, former North Carolina senator and one-time vice presidential candidate, essentially does the same thing only with better hair, his political career is ruined.
Heard from him since 2008? Is he going to make a run for Obama's soon-to-be-vacated spot? Unlikely. And Gingrich? He was still up and kicking with an admittedly terrible campaign in 2012, after adding another affair to his resume of immorality.
Now, I'm not trying to say Bill Clinton or John Edwards weren't philanderers, or that they can reasonably claim to be solid moral role models for children. But if you're looking for one of those, I think we can all agree Washington isn't necessarily the first place you'd go.
You'd go, maybe, to a school. A high school, perhaps. A place where teens meet the teachers whose support and encouragement have the potential to influence their whole lives. Teachers, or even coaches. A kid can really benefit from a great coach. Now, if a person like that were to become a politician …
Enter J. Dennis Hastert. Known as Denny Hastert to his friends, this former high school teacher and wrestling coach-turned-Speaker of the House rose to prominence in his party during the Clinton era essentially because he hadn't had any public extramarital affairs and was generally a likable guy. He had a long tenure in that office, and then in 2008 he chose not to run for re-election and faded quietly into the background as a lobbyist.
That is, until the other day, when FBI officials claimed he had paid $1.7 million over the past four years to a former student in order to conceal “past misconduct.” The misconduct, it turns out, was of a sexual nature.
Consensual sexual affairs are one thing; sexual abuse of a student by a teacher is another. No one wants to hear that happened -- not even Democrats still stinging from their apparent inability ever to claim a higher moral ground.
Besides the obvious crime, though, what the alleged behavior really shows is a deep strain of hypocrisy. Gingrich has grabbed “family values” for himself over and over, no matter how many wives he's cheated on.
Denny Hastert was considered the good guy for his eight-year tenure, potentially knowing all the while he had sexually abused a former student and then covered it up.
How long will this brand of "good guy" get to keep claiming that mantle? When will we recognize neither party can seriously say it is more moral than the other? When will people stop falling for it when the GOP says its candidates are running on a platform of family values, which the Dems can have none of?
Even before the whole Denny Hastert surprise, the winds of change might have already been coming -- but not how you'd expect them. According to a recent Gallup poll, it's not that people's opinions on the parties are changing, but their definitions of family values are.
Sixty-three percent of Americans believe homosexuality is morally acceptable, 61 percent believe having a baby out of wedlock is A-OK and 68 percent of people are fine with the idea of premarital sex. Still only 8 percent of people believe extramarital affairs are morally OK, but that's up 1 percent from 2001.
All in all, people have shifted toward the liberal side for every question asked. People were more accepting of every sex-related act on the survey, and the only things that got less acceptable were the death penalty and medical testing on animals.
So, it's not how we expected things to happen, but the Democrats may be able to get back their morality after all. Not through the public's recognition of Republican hypocrisy, but through a shift in morality itself.
You know what? I'll take it. And bring on the sex scandals: They were always a great way to get people interested in politics.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.
Citations: THE PRESIDENT UNDER FIRE ON THE RIGHT Conservative Talk Radio Finding Cause for Revelry (The New York Times), Newt and Callistas Affair Was Common Knowledge on the Hill (Rolling Stone), Gingrich Admits to Affair During Clinton Impeachment (ABC News), Edwards admits to extramarital affair (CNN), Gingrichs 2012 campaign leaves him with mixed legacy (CNN), US Accuses Ex House Speaker J Dennis Hastert of Paying to Hide Misconduct (The New York Times), Former House Speaker Dennis Hastert accused of hiding sex abuse of former student (LA Times), Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues (Gallup)