The Telltale Scratching in the Box

"Foley’s sexual orientation was a non-secret secret" to politicians, reporters and south Florida homosexuals, the Palm Beach Post reported on Wednesday. But many newspaper readers and voters did not know that their former representative in Congress is gay, because "The Post’s policy is not to report about a politician’s sexual orientation unless it is relevant to a news story."

Here’s where biblical thinking about what is "relevant" comes in handy. The Bible repeatedly criticizes both heterosexual adultery and homosexual practice. Both reflect a desire-centered view of the world that, if unrestrained, spills over into other areas of life. People, of course, are not always of a piece. A leader with a good marriage might be incompetent in office. A leader who worships immediate sexual gratification rather than God might not seek immediate gratification in public policy as well. But it is unusual for lifelong antinomianism and lifelong discipline to be combined in one person, and when they appear to be, shouldn’t we watch for Jekyll to turn into Hyde?

The Founders, proceeding largely from a biblical worldview, established the Electoral College because they believed that character counts. Their idea, practical in a population of 4 million, was that voters would choose electors whom they or their acquaintances knew personally, and those electors in turn would select a president and vice president from among leaders they knew personally. Voters at both levels could factor in character considerations.

Today, with a population of 300 million and the tendency to see America as a democracy rather than a republic, we rarely know the people we vote for. We depend on media and political parties to do character vetting for us. The Democratic Party went AWOL concerning Bill Clinton, the GOP was AWOL concerning Mark Foley, and reporters have rarely, in a timely and unambiguous fashion, written or broadcast what they know. We are often left only with "voters guides" that list the positions of politicians but leave out even more vital information about character.

Radio talk shows recently have been filled with comments such as, "They all do it." That’s the cynical view: We might as well stop the periodic attempts to throw the bums out, because it’s inevitable that new bums will replace them. But this theory of immoral equivalence is not true. Morally perfect people do not exist, but many adults have learned to restrain lusts. Some American leaders have been libertines, but others have stood personally and philosophically for both liberty and virtue — and the choice of leaders makes an enormous difference.

Many heterosexual adulterers at least have the decency not to go after teenagers in their care. The same goes for many homosexual practitioners. But reporters should maximize the information voters have and let them decide whom they wish to trust. Left uninformed, we tend to react with outrage when we hear about scandals: "Why didn’t someone tell us?"

During the Clinton-Lewinsky disgrace CNBC’s Chris Matthews said, "We, 49 percent of us at least, bought this box of cereal called Bill Clinton. Inside some of us expected to find, perhaps, one of those little plastic toys slipped in between the box and the wax paper. Instead, we opened the box one winter day this year to find not a harmless novelty item, but a spider, an eight-legged hairy bug crawling in what we expected to be a hearty January breakfast. We now have to live with it, including those of us who were so hungry for leadership in this aging century that we heard it and discounted back when we had the choice that telltale scratching in the box."

Some Republican leaders and some generally liberal reporters in this new century heard telltale scratching in Foley’s office. Both did the nation a disservice by pretending that all was well.