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Readers Write: The Ensign Escapades

As of this morning, the results of our unofficial, unscientific online survey of Nevada conservatives and Republicans show that 34 percent think Sen. John Ensign should resign, 60 disagree and 6 percent are undecided. So let’s talk a little about that since I know this is a rather painful experience for many of us on the “right.”

One reader wrote: “Harry Reid has done more damage to this state than Ensign will ever have and you do not see the Democratic party asking him to resign.”

That’s apples and oranges. Reid isn’t accused of doing what Ensign has admitted to doing. Our disagreements with Reid are philosophical and political. You don’t resign for being a liberal….unfortunately.

Another reader wrote: “Bill Clinton had sex in the White House. Did he resign?”

No. But John Ensign called on Clinton to resign – although, to be fair, the circumstances were different in that Clinton’s impeachment had to do with Clinton lying about the affair under oath and not the affair itself.

That said, Clinton’s Oval Office shenanigans weren’t with the wife of his co-chief-of-staff who also happened to be his best friend and whose children were so close to the family that they reportedly called him “uncle.”

This wasn’t just slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am office sex with an intern followed by a good cigar. This was a personal betrayal of trust of mammoth proportions. And as Ross Perot so famously pointed out many years ago, if your wife can’t trust you, why should we?

“I see that being an adulterer is no big deal,” writes one young woman who, I assume, is not married.

I wonder if she’d feel the same way about her own husband cheating on her with her best friend?

Seriously folks, those of you who think that no aspect of a politician’s personal life has a bearing on his public job should maybe reconsider your position.

I attended a conference in Chicago this weekend (don’t tell my wife; she thinks I was hiking the Appalachian Trail!) in which newspaper editor Frank Keegan – speaking not of the Ensign matter specifically, but of infidelity by elected officials in general – said the following in prepared remarks:

“I happen to believe it is a fundamental character issue. If some guy lies to his wife, the mother of his children, the person he took a vow before God and the state to forsake al others for, why the hell should I trust him? Sure, not all cheaters are thieves, nor thieves cheaters, but it does present probable cause to check out other aspects of a public servant’s fidelity.”

Yep.

Another reader wrote: “As a matter of fact, I personally think it is abnormal for a person to be with only one person in their lifetime. John Ensign is a good man and a good leader. I hope this all blows over and he runs for President.”

Mind-blowing. I confess, by that definition (and others) I’m abnormal. And if sleeping with your best friend’s spouse is what’s required to be “good” and a “leader,” I’ll stick with being a bad follower – especially since my best friend is gay. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

“I love this man for what he stands for and believe strongly that his political career will survive this incident,” writes a reader from Hawaii.  “This man was on the up-and-up by being the first to go public with his impropriety.”

Oh, puh-lease. I wonder if this gentleman would still love John Ensign if it was HIS wife who the senator had carnal knowledge with?

But the fact remains that Sen. Ensign kept this whole mess secret and didn’t come forward until he found out that it was about to be made public despite his best efforts to cover-up the matter. This is like a burglar confessing after being caught with the his hand in the jewelry box by the night watchman.

Referring to the interview of Doug Hampton, the husband of John Ensign’s mistress, conducted last week by Jon Ralston, one reader wrote:

“Based on the available evidence, so far, I believe that there is a good possibility that the Hampton’s instigated the entire ‘affair’ for the sole purpose of improving their personal financial position. Unfortunately, Sen. Ensign is too honorable to pursue the Hampton’s true plans regarding the ‘affair.’ Sen. Ensign is guilty of letting himself be taken of advantage.”

This reader has been watching WAY too much TV.

The Hamptons made lifetime friends out of the Ensigns dating back to the days when Mrs. Hampton went to school with Mrs. Ensign just so one day Mrs. Hampton could sleep with Sen. Ensign and then have Mr. Hampton extort money out of him so the Hamptons could live on easy street?

Hello, the Hamptons WERE on easy street – thanks to their jobs with Sen. Ensign. They were then kicked to the curb once the affair was discovered. That someone would find Sen. Ensign’s actions in this matter “honorable” and perceive HIM as the victim is rather astonishing.

This is not to say I believe Doug Hampton is as pure as the driven snow. I certainly do not. There’s something about this guy which ain’t quite right.

But the bottom line is that this entire episode is the result of John Ensign’s actions, not Doug Hampton’s. John Ensign put himself in this situation. No one, to the best of my knowledge, put a gun to his head and forced him to have sex with his best friend’s wife and then, for all intents and purposes, fire his best friend after he found out about it. I mean, come on. Ensign is the victim?

No, the true victims here are Nevada’s voters who were sold one thing when John Ensign was running for office, only to find out it was a crappy “Made in China” knock-off filled with lead paint once the package was opened.

From our “Men are Wild Dogs” mailbag comes this: “I don’t condone what Ensign did, but men cannot control themselves, unfortunately, and should not be entrusted alone with seductive females, many of whom may be out to destroy a man’s reputation.”

Oh, for crying out loud. The “devil made me do it” defense? Get real.

Another friend of ours and staunch pro-life advocate wrote: “We’re tired of throwing our guys overboard when the other guys do the same thing and they are celebrated.”

While I fully understand that sentiment and frustration, isn’t our side supposed to hold our people to a higher standard? Do we really want conservatives held to the same standards as Bill Clinton, Ted Kennedy and John Edwards? Shouldn’t we aspire to something better?

And then there were a few emails along these lines: “Jon Ralston is a total jerk” and “Anyone who knows Jon Ralston, knows how he slants the available news and rarely discloses the whole truth!”

People, people, people. You have GOT to stop whining about “liberal media bias” every time a story appears that you don’t like.

Jon Ralston, perceived political leanings aside, is a media pro who landed the interview of the year in Nevada and led the discussion exactly where it should have gone. He primarily relied on already published articles to frame his questions and allowed Mr. Hampton to tell his story.

And I GUARANTEE you, Ralston will be more than happy to give Ensign the same opportunity. Senator?

The Hampton interview was conducted professionally – and conservatives need to stop blaming the media for the screw-ups of our own people as though “liberal media bias” is an excuse for anything wrong our side does. As Ralston wrote in his column over the weekend:

“Let’s give Doug Hampton the worst of it: Let’s say he was an unqualified crony hired by Sen. John Ensign solely based on friendship. Let’s say he should have punched out Ensign and never have been around him again after discovering his wife’s affair. And let’s say he looks like a desperate, vengeful greedy man, whom Ensign helped get two jobs and whose caring gaming mogul father forked over $96,000 to the Hampton family to assuage the pain.

“Even if all or some of that were true, this story is not about Doug Hampton; it is about John Ensign. . . . John Ensign not only has betrayed his wife, his best friend and his faith, he has embarrassed his party and disgraced the U.S. Senate. And he wants to stay — he thinks he deserves to stay — in office?”

Exactly.

Which leads us to….

THE HUSH MONEY PAYOFF

As we learned last week, John Ensign’s father paid $96,000 to the Hamptons as a “gift.” I don’t even know where to start with this.

I guess we should first estimate how many times the senator slept with Mrs. Hampton and then run the math to see if he’d have gotten a better price from the ladies at the Chicken Ranch, but that would just be mean. So pretend I never wrote that.

Now, according to Ensign’s lawyer, the payoff was “consistent with a pattern of generosity by the Ensign family to the Hamptons and others.”

This is just revolting. “Generosity”? As in: John Ensign was servicing his best friend’s wife to save Mr. Hampton the trouble? Truly, John Ensign’s generosity knows no bounds.

OK, let’s move to the legalities. Was this truly a “gift,” or hush money?

Las Vegas Sun reporter J. Patrick Coolican quotes a UNLV law professor as saying, “You have to look at all the facts: What was the purpose of this transfer? Was it purely charitable? What was the motivation for the payment? . . . You can call a cow a dog, but that doesn’t make a cow a dog.”

No one who is not in partisan denial or outright delusional will see a series of cash payments totaling almost $100,000 to the woman who slept with Sen. Ensign and then lost her job because of it as simply a “gift.” Come on.

But the fact that the payoff came from Sen. Ensign’s retired, wealthy casino executive father just makes it even worse. As Republican columnist and commentator Rich Galen put it:

“Last month Republican Senator John Ensign (R-Nev) admitted to having an affair with a female campaign aide. Now it has been reported that his parents gave the woman, her husband and their kids gifts totaling $96,000 ‘out of concern for the well-being of longtime family friends during a difficult time.’ John Ensign is not some 22-year-old who had a bad night. He is a 51 year old United States Senator whose mommy and daddy are still trying to buy him out of trouble.”

Ouch.

But the bottom line for me goes beyond the revolting sordid details of the extramarital affair and the payoff.

I’m a live and let live kinda guy. What doesn’t affect me doesn’t affect me. And who am I to stand in judgment over John Ensign’s personal actions? It’s up to Ensign to make peace with his family, his friends and God. And from a purely human standpoint, I hope he finds a way to do just that.

So for me this question about John Ensign isn’t about the morality of his actions, his monumental bad judgment or his galactic hypocrisy. I’m only concerned with how those actions affect his ability to do the job he was elected to do and whether or not his stupidity will make it easier for the Left to enact their agenda in this state and this nation.

First, no man is irreplaceable. There are plenty of Republicans who could ably represent Nevada in Washington, DC – starting with Rep. Dean Heller. So let’s dispense with this notion that we can’t live without John Ensign.

Then there’s the fact that the whole affair has become yet another colossal national embarrassment for our state, with Ensign joining fellow Republican Jim Gibbons as the butt of jokes from sea to shining sea.

But more importantly, according Hampton, Ensign was extremely distracted from his duties last year when he was supposed to be running the National Republican Senatorial Committee – the results of which were the loss of eight Republican U.S. Senate seats, a veto-proof majority for Harry Reid, and the election of that jerk Al Franken.

And that was when Ensign was only distracted by this matter while it was still private and kept secret from the public and the media. How much MORE “distracted” by this is the senator today?

John Ensign has personal problems, legal problems and political problems that can’t help but keep him from representing Nevada in the Senate at the level Nevadans deserve.

And while 2012 is a long way away, and voters have rather short memories, the seedy details of this affair will surely be raised if Sen. Ensign should seek re-election. It’s a political albatross he can never remove. His re-election in 2012 is anything but assured and his seat could well end up going to Rep. Shelley Berkley.

How in the world is THAT in the best interest of Nevada, let alone the Republican Party?

And finally, many of the unanswered questions about this matter are legitimate and not the result of “liberal media bias.” That John Ensign continues to duck those questions and play hide-and-seek with reporters should tick off every Nevada citizen.

As should the fact that Sen. Ensign went out of his way to immediately address his GOP colleagues in Washington and offer THEM an apology while failing to explicitly do so, to this very day, to the very people he’s supposed to represent.

No, not gaming executives. I mean the voters.

As the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial page put it this weekend, “John Ensign has damaged himself and his family. But he has also damaged Nevadans….who deserve a senator who can focus his energies on representing their interests.”

Amen. And if trying to “Save Private Ensign” might result in his replacement by Rep. Shelley Berkley instead of Rep. Dean Heller, Ensign ain’t worth saving. Not for Nevada. Not for Republicans. And certainly not “for the children.”

It’s time for veterinarian John Ensign to return to his previous profession, giving rabies shots to cute little puppies and kittens. The state and the Nevada Republican Party will get along fine without him.