NPR’s Tamara Keith fired the latest salvo in the media’s ongoing attempt to imply that scandalous behavior is a mostly Republican problem, and insist that Democratic politicians tend to resign more often after being caught in misdeeds, because their party is much more moralistic and exacting on their own side than is the GOP.
Keith used the embarrassing story of newly elected Republican Rep. George Santos and his myriad lies to make a version of that argument – that GOP shamelessness rules the American political landscape, on Wednesday’s Morning Edition. (Below are excerpts from NPR’s rearranged, text-friendly transcription of Keith's original report, that you can listen to here.)
There was a time when shame was a powerful force in American politics. That time is not now.
Congressman George Santos is the embodiment of how times have changed.
For more stalwart words on integrity, Keith turned to retired liberal Democrat Sen. Patrick Leahy.
This is not the way things used to run, said Patrick Leahy, who recently retired after 48 years as a Democratic senator from Vermont.
"The fact that he is still here is a product of this time," Leahy said. "When I came here, Republican or Democrat, his own party would tell him you have to go."
In 1999, Senator Leahy voted not to impeach Bill Clinton for lying under oath about the Monica Lewinsky affair. He not only voted to keep habitually lying Clinton, he bragged it was a bold moment of historical continuity. Bill Clinton wasn't mentioned in this NPR story of shameless politicians.
Keith tersely described the crime that put Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner in prison, and used him as a highly questionable spokesman for political integrity.
A little more than 10 years ago, Weiner tweeted out an up-close image of himself in boxer briefs. He lied about how it happened, and it only got worse from there. He ultimately resigned. Weiner later served time in prison for texting obscene material to a 15-year-old.
"I still today have people who stop me on the street and say, 'you know what, you probably could have survived that scandal if you just put your head down,'" said Weiner.
Weiner doesn't agree. For one thing, Democratic leadership made it clear he had to go….
These nuzzlings-up to Democrats were a build-up toward unmasking Donald Trump under the headline “Trump was a master of showing no shame.” Keith then went to Montana.
Then came Greg Gianforte, a Republican candidate for Congress in Montana. He body-slammed a reporter on the eve of a 2017 special election, and won anyway. He later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault. Before long, Trump had turned it into a punchline, imitating the motions of a body slam on stage at a rally in Montana.
Gianforte just kept on winning and now he's the state's governor.
In 2019, then-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, faced a scandal about decades-earlier dressing up in blackface. A who's who of Democrats demanded that he resign, but Northam persisted and eventually the controversy faded.
Northam is an exception of a Democrat who gutted it out, said Tim Miller, who worked on Jeb Bush's presidential campaign. Miller said the political shamelessness is asymmetrical because Democrats and Republicans face different degrees of public pressure.
Keith unwittingly demonstrated how the media plays to Democratic politicians and a Democratic audience:
For Republican politicians, said Miller, it can be easier to hang on. "Donald Trump and the conservative media echo chamber has made powering through a lot easier than it used to be," he said.
No mention of Democratic Senators Ted Kennedy (MA) or Chris Dodd (CT), neither of whom resigned for their activities including making an (ahem) “waitress sandwich” at a Capitol Hill restaurant in 1985. More recently, Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax survived two sexual assault allegations to retain his position in Democrat Ralph Northam’s administration. The still-sitting Democratic governor of New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shelled out $150,000 to settle a sexual harassment claim against a former campaign staffer.