He is a key religious right operative on Capitol Hill, a lawmaker with possible presidential ambitions, and a deceitful hypocrite.
Meet Sen. John Ensign, a Republican senator from Nevada, and a sanctimonious blowhard with a staunch "family values" voting record who opposes abortion rights, wants to re-instate teacher-led prayer in public schools, and steps up to the nearest podium to denounce other public officials who engage in private sexual misconduct.
He is also active in the Promise Keepers movement (chuckle), and according to one news report, "resists temptaation" by not being alone in a room with a woman other than his wife. Now, the spotlight is on Ensign who admitted Tuesday that he engaged in an extra-marital affair with a woman who had served on his campaign. staff. According to a spokesperson, Ensign and the unidentified staffer carried on their tryst between December 2007 and August 2008. Her husband worked in Ensign's Capitol Hill office at the time.
"Last year I had an affair," declared Sen. Ensign in a statement to news media. "I violated the vows of my marriage. It is the worst thing I have ever done in my life. If there was ever anything in my life I could take back, this would be it."
Ensign's wife, Darlene, dutifully released her own spin-control statement, saying that she and her husband had "come to a reconciliation." The couple have three children.
It is not clear why the Senator, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the 2012 GOP presidential race, admitted to the wrong-doing, although there are unconfirmed reports of a blackmail threat. What makes this latest revelation of misconduct by a leading public official noteworthy, though, is Ensign's staunch social conservatism and penchants for denouncing others who have committed similar peccadilloes. In the midst of the imbroglio over Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, for instance, the Nevada Republican loudly denounced the president's actions and describe the affair as "an embarrassing moment for the country," adding "I think we have to feel very sad for the American people and Hillary and Chelsea."
Ensign demanded that Mr. Clinton resign from office and said "I came to that conclusion recently and frankly it's because of what he put the whole Cabinet through and what he has put the country through..."
At the time, Ensign was in a hotly-contested race with incumbent Harry Reid. The brash challenger said that the Clinton affair "could have a dramatic effect on Democrats like (President Nixon's resignation following the Watergate break-in) had on Republicans in 1974." During the campaign, Ensign hammered away at the Clinton scandal, and accused Mr. Reid of weakness when it came to denouncing libertine politicians and sexual hanky-panky.
Despite losing to Reid, Ensign later won a seat in the U.S. Senate where he quickly established credentials as a water-bearer for religious right groups. The Christian Coalition "voter guide"
gave him a 100% favorable rating; and at the congressional well, Ensign was quick to denounce any hint of sexual misconduct, even when it involved fellow Republicans. He towed the line on hot-button political issues, voting against abortion rights for women, opposing same-sex domestic partnership benefits, and coming out strongly in defense of teacher-led unison prayer in public schools.
Sen. Ensign also emerged as a supporter of Sam Alito and John Roberts for confirmation to the Supreme Court of the United States.
When it came to legislation having to do with the Establishment Clause separation of government and religion, Ensign earned a zero percent rating from the state-church watchdog group Americans United.
John Ensign is also a key member of a shadowy, Washington, DC religious cult that over the years has operated under a battery of names and disguises. They include, according to a March 2003 expose by Harper's Magazine reporter Jeffrey Sharlett, National Committee for Christian Leadership, the International Foundation, the Fellowship Foundation, and Fellowship House. To members and informed outsiders, the group is simply "the Family," and maintains a sprawling house/retreat in a quiet Arlington, Virginia neighborhood. There is much praying, and much talk about what amounts to theocratic government. The group's $10 million annual budget comes from a handful of wealthy donors, and its only public activity is the National Prayer Breakfast. The group also conducts "prayer warrior" meetings in the Pentagon. The Harper's expose lives at http://www.harpers.org/archive/2003/03/0079525.
This certainly is not the first time that a leading politician --especially one with impeccable religious-right credentials -- has engaged in hypocritical conduct that speaks less to their public religious sensibilities that it does to the slogan, "Do as I say, not as I do." Mr. Ensign joins the ranks of Rep. Mark Foley; "Larry "wide stance" Craig; "Crusader Eliot Spitzer, the former New York Governor who made his political career as a foe of corruption in high place; and, of course, a retinue of philandering preachers including Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart and Rev. Tim Haggard along with an undisclosed number of pedophile clergy.
No doubt Sen. Ensign, who loudly demanded the resignation of Bill Clinton, will now engage in a media rain-dance that we have come to expect whenever public figures -- celebrities, politicians, super-star athletes -- stumble in their careers. He will "seek counseling," give lip service to apologies, engage the assistance of a "spiritual advisor" and then once again step up to the pulpit or podium talking about "the healing process." Indeed, the American people are a forgiving folk. We insist on this ritual of self-humiliation, asking for that very forgiveness, and then smile when the former wrong-doer basks in the bright light of redemption.
The only problem is that no one mentions the hypocrisy. Sen. Ensign is full of prescriptions, prohibitions and rules that others must follow lest they slip into the clutches of sin. In his case, though, this is just another example of being a hypocrite, and living by a credo that declares: "Do as I say, not as I do."