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May 22, 2010

Stephanie Salter: God helps those who make simple, declarative confessions

TERRE HAUTE — If Mark Souder is capable of sexual misconduct, it could happen to anyone.

— Penny Nance, Concerned Women of America.

Actually, no, it can’t happen to anyone.

Sexual misconduct — a.k.a. cheating on your wife for several years with a woman who is cheating on her husband — is not something that “happens” to a person.

Catching a cold happens to you. Being broadsided by a texting driver happens to you. Getting food poisoning in a 5-star restaurant happens to you. Discovering that your husband — the one who makes speeches about God, family values and the virtues of sexual abstinence — is a cheater? That also happens to you.

But cheating requires a transitive and active verb. Cheating is predicated on a conscious choice and action. Each and every time an adulterous assignation is made, kept and not revealed, deliberate choices are made.

Penny Nance, the CEO of the conservative Concerned Women for America, was not alone in her misuse of verbs when she talked to the Indy Star about the resignation of U.S. Rep. Mark Souder. The 3rd District Indiana Congressman has had trouble, himself, articulating what happened versus what he consciously chose to do on his own.

From the get-go of his May 18 news confessional in Fort Wayne, Souder seemed disinclined to use the active voice. Ten sentences into his resignation speech — half way — he finally got around to saying he’d done something wrong: “I sinned against God, my wife and my family by having a mutual relationship with a part-time member of my staff.”

No “extramarital affair” or “infidelity” for Souder. Typical of the tone of his entire statement, he euphemized his sin into “a mutual relationship.” Worse, the revelation was preceded by a fair amount of self-aggrandizement, including the declaration that the “honor” of his eight terms in Congress was “a blessing and a responsibility given from God.”

That should come as a surprise to the voters of the 3rd District who wrote campaign checks and showed up at the polls to send Souder to Washington all those years. If they’d known God had stacked the deck, they could have stayed home or funneled their contributions elsewhere.

Souder’s admission also was preceded by whining that teetered on victim-speak. Of his part in “the battle for freedom and the values we share,” the GOP representative lamented, “It has been all consuming for me to do this job well, especially in a district with costly, competitive elections every two years, I do not have any sort of ‘normal’ life — for family, for friends, for church, for community.”

News flash for Souder: Most Indiana districts are competitive and costly for those who want to represent one in Congress. Likewise, nobody in the House or Senate has a “normal” life. After 16 years, Souder knows that. Mentioning both as he inched closer to confessing his infidelity, indicates he considers them mitigating evidence for his behavior, which they most surely are not.

All of that, however, was just a warm-up for the blame-shifting, full-blown victim-speak that Souder employed in the second-half of his statement.

“In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon, often twisted, for political gain,” he said. “I am resigning rather than to put my family through that painful, drawn-out process.”

Wrong voice again.

The poisonous atmosphere of Washington did not cause adultery to happen to Souder and his girlfriend, Tracey Meadows Jackson. Souder did not choose to resign because Washington’s partisan politics seize upon and twist any personal failing. Like South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (who doesn’t live in Washington), Souder chose to resign because the options are few when somebody squeals on a holier-than-thou, family-values zealot and outs him as a cheating, lying, hypocritical politician.

Sanford dragged it out. Souder didn’t. Does the latter deserve a gold star? Both men’s choice to preach one path and follow another caused the major damage to their families. Anything after merely dictates how long the wrong-doer stays in the floodlights.

Even when Souder did manage some active voice and transitive verbs in his statement, he neutralized them. Noting that he is “sick of politicians who drag their spouses up in front of the cameras rather than confront the problem they caused,” he then shaved the edges off by insisting that his family had been more than willing to stand with him.

After finally uttering “… the error is mine and I should bear the responsibility … I am so ashamed to have hurt those I love. I am so sorry to have let so many friends down …” Souder couldn’t keep the whiner and braggart quiet: “By stepping aside, my mistake cannot be used as a political football in a partisan attempt to undermine the cause for which I have labored all my adult life.”

Oh, please. A family-values proponent is immortalized on video discussing the wonderfulness of sexual abstinence with his extramarital lover. Nobody needs a football. The game is over.

Souder insisted his cause is “greater than individuals. It is based upon eternal truths” and values that are “just and right.” In fact, “America will survive and thrive when anchored in those values.”

Like so many fallen “values” politicians, Souder felt compelled to say he is comforted because “God is a gracious and forgiving God to those who sincerely seek his forgiveness as I do.”

Thanks for sharing. If people seeking political office concentrated more on practicing their faith than on trumpeting it, their relationship with God might remain as it should, close and deeply personal. When they stumble, it might not be so clumsily nor their fall so hard. 

Souder finished by reciting his plans: To focus “upon repairing my marriage, earning back the trust of my family and my community, and renewing my walk with the Lord.” And he made a request.

“I humbly ask you,” he said to the gathered news media, “for the sake of my family, that you respect our privacy in this difficult time.”

Note the subtle transfer of responsibility, once again. Ask the disgraced Congressman to address his fundamental dishonesty and years of hypocrisy, demand something more than self-serving, blame-gaming clichés, and you — not he — will be guilty of disrespecting his family.

That final request reveals a man who, obviously, needs a lot of training to get in shape for a renewed walk with the Lord.

Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or stephanie.salter@tribstar.com.

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