With the sexual indiscretion of Republican Rep. Vance McAllister has come calls from some prominent Republicans for him to resign, which has spawned charges of hypocrisy from prominent Democrats. But going beneath the surface of the matter blunts, if not invalidates, the latter’s claim.
The Democrats’ assertion stems from comparing McAllister’s kissing of a married aide revealed last week to the admission in 2007 by Republican Sen. David Vitter of committing a “serious sin,” widely believed to involve his utilizing a few years earlier prostitution services. Two prominent Republicans, organizational party leader Roger Villere and political leader Gov. Bobby Jindal, have called for McAllister’s resignation, but neither asked the same of Vitter at the time those years ago. Democrats hope this charge can convey a (tiny) advantage in its upcoming fall campaigns and perhaps spill over to Vitter’s run for governor next year.
The political rationale should be obvious as to the differential treatment by Republicans. McAllister just won a special election to fill the seat a few months ago, and is best known for complaining about being a congressman and bucking the party on the high-profile issue of government involvement in health care. His taking a powder would make for a wide open race in the fall but heavily favoring Republicans in a year, the midterm during a president’s second term, they are advantaged, while his staying in, because of lingering knowledge of the incident of just a few months earlier, would decrease the chances (even if they still would be favored) of their holding the position if he were forced into a runoff with a Democrat. The state party also wants nothing to distract voters from the unfavorable reelection climate for Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, now an underdog to retain her seat.
By contrast, Vitter already was halfway through his first term as senator, but already had served a few of them in the House, with an election three years away and the events in question by that election had happened nearly a decade earlier. Further, his leaving of office would have allowed Democrat then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco to appoint undoubtedly a Democrat to serve at least 18 months until the special election, after the GOP had just lost the Senate majority. Vitter also was anything but an outsider to the party; although a maverick on some issues and a bruising political fighter on others that displeased some powerful figures in the party both elected and not, he also made efforts to build the party and was reliably conservative.
So expediency as a factor seems obvious: Vitter was a party asset both electorally and ideologically, with years to work on winning back portions of his voter majority that may have wavered as a result of his admission, whose exit certainly would keep his spot from the party through 2008 and that increased the chances of this continuing past then. In the case of McAllister, the GOP has no special loyalty to him nor sees him particularly as an asset, the next election it thinks stands an extremely high chance of producing a Republican in the position more of an asset, if he stayed in that would decrease the chances of holding it, and that also could decrease chances of knocking off Landrieu.
This differential treatment has gotten into a wad the panties of both the party machinery of Democrats and their only announced candidate for governor state Rep. John Bel Edwards, with the latter railing about the presumed differential treatment as “hypo-hypocrisy” (which translated literally means “less than normal hypocrisy,” which in context comes across more as a compliment, so maybe English usage isn’t quite his strong suit). But two factors differentiate the 2007 case of Vitter and the 2014 case of McAllister than moots this argument.
Keep in mind the context regarding the two individual critics, which also includes in Villere’s case his representation of the state GOP. Jindal could not have been expected to say anything about Vitter then because he was in the midst of his second in total, first successful campaign for governor, and one of the cardinal rules of winning a campaign is that you talk and stay concerned about yourself, not anybody else’s personal life, at least publicly. In fact, at the time Vitter made his announcement, Jindal was gearing up for a major campaign tour so that distracted from the Jindal campaign, and later rumors circulated in the media that Jindal coordinated with other left unidentified “top” party officials to try to force Vitter out. So Jindal speaking out now and not then by no means indicates any hypocrisy on this part, just political feet of clay when it came to broadcasting his alleged preference to see Vitter go.
In the instance of Villere, he represents, at least symbolically, the state party, which requires a consensus for it to act. Since there was significant dissension in the party then about Vitter’s resignation, the party he headed then stayed silent on the issue, so the most Democrats could claim now was that the GOP was insufficiently united then as an organization officially to put out a formal request for a resignation, in contrast to the unity expressed now in the case of McAllister.
And even that weak charge dissolves completely under an inconvenient fact: there’s no conclusive evidence that Vitter committed an act of marital infidelity. There’s no recording, as in McAllister’s case, nor any admission as provided by McAllister, just a ton of circumstantial evidence. While that may seem a technicality, it’s a necessary condition if a party or its partisans are going to call for one of their own’s head on the basis of something you can’t prove legally. You can in a legal sense go out there and call for a resignation because a phone number under his name showed up in the evidence in a trial for a woman accused of running a prostitution ring, or that it’s conduct unbecoming of a Member of Congress to have that phone number found in that situation, or because he parts his hair the wrong way, but, given what evidence was there and what statements Vitter made, you border on slander if you declare the guy ought to go because he was unfaithful to his wife.
That doesn’t mean some may make that call, and this dodges the issue of whether marital infidelity in and of itself should disqualify one from office (recall that in the case of Pres. Bill Clinton, arguments that he should step down were infinitely stronger because he deliberately obstructed investigation of what turned out to be his legally proven lies using taxpayer resources). But in reviewing each case as they are and in the responses they have garnered, together they simply represent apples and oranges. While no doubt prompted by their never-ending run of bad news to find anything to make their party look better, the assertion by varying state Democrats that GOP calls for McAllister to resign over demonstrated and admitted infidelity while too few of them agitated for Vitter to do the same over circumstantial evidence about yet unproven infidelity denotes some kind of Republican hypocrisy simply is inaccurate.