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On John Ensign’s Affair

Written By : John Hawkins
June 18, 2009

I have always liked John Ensign. I even felt sorry for him when he took on the unenviable task of running the NRSC for the 2008 election cycle. Talk about one of the lousiest jobs in politics — that was it.

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Well, over the last few days, one of the hot stories has been Ensign’s affair, which of course, the press has been fascinated with since he’s a Republican.

Sen. John Ensign acknowledged Tuesday that he had an affair with a campaign staffer – an admission that stunned his colleagues, hurt his chances for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination and called into question his future as a leader of the Senate GOP.

The Nevada Republican admitted in Las Vegas Tuesday that he had “violated the vows” of marriage by having an affair with a staffer. He did not identify the woman except to say that she and her husband were both “close friends” who worked for him, and that “the closeness” of their relationship had “put me in situations which led to my inappropriate behavior.”

But current and former aides to the Nevada Republican say the woman was 46-year-old Cynthia Hampton, a campaign staffer whose husband was a top aide in Ensign’s Senate office.

…Sources said Ensign strayed while he was separated from his wife. The two have since reconciled. And in a statement to the Las Vegas Sun Tuesday, Darlene Ensign said: “Since we found out last year, we have worked through the situation, and we have come to a reconciliation. This has been difficult on both families. With the help of our family and close friends, our marriage has become strong.

…A born-again Christian, Ensign has been a member of the Promise Keepers, a male evangelical group that promotes marital fidelity.

When former Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) was arrested in an airport men’s room in the summer of 2007, Ensign was among Craig’s toughest critics, saying Craig should step down because he had been charged with a crime.

“I wouldn’t put myself, hopefully, in that kind of position, but if I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do,” Ensign told The Associated Press at the time.

Long story short: Ensign did cheat on his wife, but it was done while they were separated, which is, at least in my eyes, a significant mitigating factor. However, he cheated with a married woman, which is another big strike against him.

Some critics have pointed out the fact that Ensign is a member of Promise Keepers and a heavy critic of Larry Craig, which makes him particularly hypocritical. I can’t say that I agree. Promising not to cheat just goes along with your wedding vows. If you cheat on your wife, whether you’re John Ensign, Bill Clinton, or John Edwards, you’re a huge hypocrite and it does say something very negative about your character.

Now personally, I thought that Craig should step down. I said the same thing about David Vitter, when it came out that he was with a prostitute. While I do think it was appropriate that Ensign resigned his leadership position over this, I don’t think he should resign his Senate seat over it, although in 2012, it may be something that comes up in his reelection campaign. Let me also add to that, that all this talk about Ensign being a 2012 presidential contender really got started about 5 minutes after he was accused of having an affair. A minimal amount of idle speculation here and there about a speech to a conservative group in Iowa does not a 2012 contender make.

Now yesterday, when I was doing my friend Jaz McKay’s radio Show, he asked me why these politicians cheat.

Logically, it’s a horrible idea. Not only do they have all the normal problems associated with cheating: going against their moral code, ruining their marriage, humiliating their children, etc., etc., they’re in the public eye. That means they can be blackmailed, which some people think may be the reason why Ensign has come forward. It means that if the news breaks, the whole world is going to know about it. It tends to be terribly damaging to their career. So, why do they do it?

Well, politicians are just as human as everyone else. That means that the “flesh is weak” and they are just as prone to doing things that they find morally reprehensible at a vulnerable moment as any other person.

I also think the lifestyle these national pols lead can help lead to cheating. They work long hours, away from home, and away from their families. Because of their jobs, most people they meet want something from them, so they tend to stay isolated. The people they see constantly are their staffers, who in my general experience, tend to have a view of their bosses that falls somewhere between “extremely loyal” and “hero worship.”

You get a guy like Ensign, who was having marriage troubles around a staffer who may have been having problems, too. They spend a lot of time around each either — and studies show that your level of attractiveness to another person rises the more often you see them. They get to know each other better and better, she’s attracted to him because he’s successful and powerful; then one day in a moment of weakness, things get started and go from there.

However, at the end of the day, people don’t care much about reasons. They just know Ensign had an affair and they will never look at him the same way again.

PS: I’m glad Ensign didn’t try to drag his wife out to a press conference to defend him. I really dislike it when politicians pull that stunt.

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