Sunday, July 15, 2007

Stephanie Salter: Be wary of casting the first stone, lest thy name pop up on madam’s list

Stephanie is my new hero!

Stephanie Salter: Be wary of casting the first stone, lest thy name pop up on madam’s list

By Stephanie Salter
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Do you think it’s an accident that the New Testament is chock-full of advice about judging?

Just as Jesus repeatedly instructed us to take care of the poor, the sick and other marginalized folks, he repeatedly warned us away from our human tendency to pronounce sanctimonious judgments against our neighbors.

It doesn’t get much clearer than the adulterous woman story, in which Jesus reminds all those rock throwers about the qualification for casting the first stone.

Recent revelations about U.S. Sen. David Vitter — yet another “family values” politician caught being a hypocrite — underscore the timelessness of the advice.

Nobody, not even a Harvard-educated, conservative Republican from Louisiana, is exempt from the rules about judging and condemning.

Ignore them at your peril. Ignore them loudly, proudly and in such arenas as the opinion pages of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and you invariably end up looking like a two-faced fool.

As news consumers learned early last week, Vitter’s name is among 15,000 on the client phone list of this season’s “D.C. Madam,” Deborah Jeane Palfrey. About a furlong ahead of being outed by Hustler, Vitter went proactive (sort of) in a brief, vague statement. He said he’d committed a “very serious sin in my past,” but had dealt with it “several years ago” when he’d sought and received forgiveness from his wife and God. (One national blogger wondered if God had sent a telegram.) Out of respect for his family, Vitter said, he wasn’t going to talk about it anymore.

The problem with that swift and sterile mea culpa is the pile of stones Vitter has thrown at others in his political career. From former President Bill Clinton to proponents of gay marriage to people who advocate comprehensive sex education instead of abstinence-only, Vitter’s holier-than-thou denouncements now are flying back at him.

By the time the week was up, Vitter’s past was so accessible, a former New Orleans brothel owner insisted she was only trying to help by identifying him as a client from the mid-1990s who was “one of the nicest and most honorable men I’ve ever met.”

During his senate campaign in 2004, Vitter boasted that he was a champion of “Louisiana’s values, not Massachusetts’s values” (whatever that means), and he made much of being the only candidate “to co-author the federal Marriage Amendment.”

Vitter had done his co-authoring in the House of Representatives, to which he’d gained entrance in 1999 when GOP Rep. Bob Livingston had to resign because his extra-marital affair had spilled out of its secret closet.

(Hypocrite handicappers may recall that Livingston was outed not long after he’d delivered a self-righteous blast at Democrat Clinton, who was then in the hot seat and facing impeachment for lying about his extra-marital affair with Monica Lewinsky.)

An amendment to the U.S. Constitution was necessary, Vitter said in ’04, because the sanctity of marriage was under attack and that was “a real outrage.”

Under attack from hypocritical politicians like family-values Livingston and his family-values predecessor, Newt Gingrich? From male page fancier Mark Foley or from Henry Hyde, who called a seven-year, extra-marital liaison he conducted in his 40s, a “youthful indiscretion”?

No, the attack that outraged Vitter came from the “Hollywood left,” he said, which was “redefining the most basic institution in human history.”

(Yes, sir, compared to New Orleans brothels and Washington escort services, the Hollywood left is wrecking marriage as we know it. Throw in Massachusetts values, and it’s all over but the shouting.)

Even Vitter’s wife emerged last week as a painful example of the wages of public judging. Back in 2000, when Hillary Clinton was still twisting in the wind from her husband’s sexual stupidity, Wendy Vitter told a journalist she would handle infidelity differently than Mrs. Clinton.

“I’m a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” said Mrs. Vitter, referring to a Virginia woman who cut off her husband’s penis while he slept then threw it out a car window. “If he does something like that, I’m walking away with one thing, and it’s not alimony, trust me. I think fear is a very good motivating factor in a marriage.”

(Hypocrite handicappers’ tidbit II: During Monicagate, Hillary Clinton was humiliated by her own 1992 declaration that she wasn’t “some little woman, standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette.”)

So, what are the lessons from all of this?

For one, it pays to be mindful of that admonition about criticizing someone else’s splinter when there’s a plank in your own eye that may need tending.

Two, if you’re going to wrap yourself in family values and use that image to belittle others and win public office, better stay away from whorehouses and call girls.

Third, owning your transgressions outright is a lot better insurance against public humiliation than telling yourself you won’t get caught. That way, if you just can’t help judging your neighbor, at least you’ve already acknowledged your own feet of clay.

Such was the stance taken by a reader of the Times-Picayune last week. After digesting a story about the New Orleans madam who found Vitter so honorable, “robandlar” posted this message on the paper’s Web site:

“I’d rather be a Hypocrite, Christian, Conservative, Republican any day of the week. It sure beats the hell out of being a Liar, Perjurer, Thieving Democrat!”

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or