I remember in the late 1990s when a conservative friend of mine made a strenuously felt case that Bill Clinton didn't deserve to be president because of Clinton's well-known philandering. "How can I trust him to keep his oath to the country when he can't even keep his vow to his wife?" my friend said, and indeed that seemed to be the rationale for a lot of evangelical Christians who weren't content to simply oppose the president, but expressed a great deal of contempt for him.
I was reminded of my friend tonight by Dave Weigel's Slate story about how Iowa evangelicals are trying, very delicately but unmistakably, to give their flock permission to vote for thrice-married (and multiple philanderer) Newt Gingrich. To be fair, those leaders acknowledge the problem. Says one pastor: “Do you vote for a Mormon who's had one wife, a Catholic who's had three wives, or an Evangelical who may have had an entire harem?”
There's a lot of talk about "forgiveness" in Weigel's piece—talk that, to my memory, was pretty well absent when it came to Clinton's transgressions a decade ago. What to make of this? A couple of options:
• That evangelicals were sincere in the late 1990s about their contempt for Clinton, but have been so beaten down by GOP sex scandals since then that they're bending and bowing to the larger culture's sexual mores—or at least, deciding those strict rules don't matter so much in the political realm anymore. I'd actually kind of hate to see that, bizarrely enough: I don't really share evangelicals' sexual morality, but I'd hate for holders of that morality to shrug and give into the culture out of weariness rather than conversion.
• Or maybe it's straight hypocrisy.
The truth, I suspect, is a little bit of both: A mixture of defeat and cynicism when it comes to our sexed-up culture. In any case, I'd love to hear some of these guys talk more about forgiving Clinton. They kind of have to, right?