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The Jonathan Edwards Rule

"He can't even run his own life, I'll be damned if he'll run mine."

by James Leroy Wilson
July 9, 2009

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The Jonathan Edwards Rule

Celebrity deaths have rocked the headlines over the past two weeks. While some of them were shocking, they're not the only strange news:

I'm somewhat disappointed in Sanford, though not surprised. As a man's fame, wealth, and travel time increases, the greater chance he has of getting involved in an adulterous affair. My assumption is that most politicians are similarly guilty, along with most athletes, authors, and entertainers. What is disappointing is that by most accounts he was the best governor in the country and a 2012 Presidential hopeful most likely to save the Republican Party from their demented and destructive foreign policies. Although unlikely to vote for him, I probably would have rooted for him over Obama. While he'll serve out his term, this scandal means it's unlikely that higher office awaits.

Although he's fought off resignation, some have doubted Sanford's "moral authority" to govern
.

But imagine you are the governor of South Carolina or any other state, and the issue of government hiring and promotion policy is raised. You consult the Supreme Court's ruling.

Regardless of whether your personal life is spotless or tawdry, how can you possibly figure it out? Do you ask your wife or mistress to prognosticate on how future Supreme Courts will rule on affirmative action?

This is a problem facing officials in hundreds of state and local jurisdictions.

Are we to say that the maritally faithful have the "moral authority" to implement this ridiculous ruling, but not adulterers?

There simply is no "moral authority" for anyone to even attempt to implement it.

Now imagine you're in Congress, and your sex life is more reckless than Bill Clinton's. Meanwhile, let's imagine the conspirators who wrote and added this 300-page amendment to the Cap & Trade bill at the last minute are all saints in their personal lives.

Would you have the "moral authority" to oppose this amendment? OF COURSE.

Would they have the "moral authority" to write it, and then introduce it at the last minute? OF COURSE NOT.

As Jack Hunter of Taki's has said (paraphrase), "I'd support a politician with the personal life of JFK if he had the public positions of Ron Paul."

An exemplary personal life doesn't matter if one doesn't understand, or isn't committed to, justice in public life.

Indeed, justice - respect for individual rights - is the foundation of all authority, of all leadership whether in the public sector or the private. If you're not just, it's irrelevant whether or not you're otherwise "good."

But let's grant, as many seem to believe, that justice does not have to do with individual rights, or that the ends of government have little to do with "justice" per se but mostly with "the common good."

Very well. In that case, I propose the Jonathan Edwards rule. I'm not referring to the famed Puritan preacher, but rather to the singer-songwriter who sings in his biggest hit "Sunshine:" "But he can't even run his own life, I'll be damned if he'll run mine."

The way I interpret this is, the more a politician believes government should be in control, the more his personal life matters. If he wants to run your life, his own must be in order.

In that sense, "character" does matter. "Moral authority" defined as a personal life lived with integrity, matters.

When admitted drug users win the Presidency yet do nothing to help those incarcerated merely for drug possession, it matters.

When a President endorses the idea that the Justice Department should prosecute people who make lewd jokes in the workplace, but then commits perjury in a sexual harassment case against himself, it matters.

When one goes AWOL from the National Guard during an undeclared foreign war, then as President sends the National Guard into harms way in an undeclared foreign war, it matters.

There's one kind of conservative who says the federal government shouldn't be involved in education at all, let alone sex education. There's another kind that supports federal funding of "abstinence-only" sex education. If the former commits adultery, it doesn't matter; if the latter commits adultery, it does matter.

That's because he can't even keep his own pants zipped, but thinks he has the right to steal from the taxpayer in order to try to persuade your teenage son to keep his zipped. Again, "he can't even run his own life" so why should he run ours?

If you stand for peace and freedom, what you do in your personal life doesn't matter. If you believe government should be the protector and promoter of morality and culture at the expense of freedom, then hypocrisy matters. If one's public statements aren't lived out in private, they are not credible.

I don't know where Sanford falls on the hypocrisy scale. As governor, he's fought for less government spending, which is admirable. At the same time, he's apparently played into the Religious Right - family values constituency.

What I do know is that, worse than the adultery itself, his public statements about it have hurt his wife and sons. He does not have the "moral authority" to promote a socially conservative agenda with government funds, but he does have the moral authority to fight for spending cuts.

Sanford "can't even run his own life." It is not for him, or any Republican or Democrat in the same situation, to run ours. Their only two honorable options is to either resign or to fight for less government meddling in our lives.

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