A year or so ago, my oldest daughter asked, “Mom, what’s a ‘vow’?”

I explained that a vow is a sacred promise, one that is bigger and more important than an ordinary promise. I told her that when I married her father, I didn’t just promise to love and honor and be faithful to him; I vowed before God and family to do all those things, just as he did for me. While there are circumstances for breaking a promise, those circumstances would have to be extreme to break a vow.

So now we learn that John Edwards had an affair. It doesn’t matter that his wife has cancer, or that he just renewed his (ahem) vows after 30 years of marriage with her, or that he was a candidate for one of the highest offices in this country, or that he just got a “Father of the Year” award. The scumbucket had an affair.

Big whoop.

Pardon my yawn, but why should anyone be surprised? I don’t know whether politicians have a higher rate of infidelity than the normal population. Maybe they just get the media coverage for it. But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn this is the case.

Maybe there’s something about people in positions of power that increases the likelihood that they’ll screw around on their spouses. Or maybe people who are inclined to screw around are more likely to seek positions of power. Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

It seems to me that political leaders often have affairs because they can. As Edwards himself admitted, power goes to their head. They come to consider themselves above and beyond the ordinary person. The rules don’t apply to them. They take what they want and damn the consequences.

And – here’s the funny thing – they always seem so surprised when they’re caught and condemned by the press and the great unwashed masses. It’s as if they don’t comprehend how anyone could object to the notion that they’re exempt from decent and moral behavior. This attitude cuts across both party and gender lines.

What I find especially patronizing is when those in authority, whose personal lives are a mess, have the unmitigated gall to lecture us on morality. It’s hysterically funny when someone like Bill Clinton – Clinton, of all people! – gives a speech praising the virtues of monogamy.

It almost seems to be a job requirement for a politician to stand up there with his loving and devoted spouse at his side, perhaps surrounded by his scrubbed and smiling children, to assure of us of his marital faithfulness and, by extension or implication, of his political faithfulness. As so often happens when they’re later forced to stand up there to explain their misbehavior, that loving spouse is right there by his side, willing or not.

Again, I don’t know for a fact that the frequency of politicians failing to keep vows is any greater than the rest of us. But the magnitude of that failure certainly is.

If I am forced to surrender a significant portion of my income and a great deal of my personal freedom to a government representative, in return the least I should be able to expect is that representative to be held to higher standards and ideals. Since I am compelled to give up something of supreme importance to myself and my family’s welfare, what am I getting in return? All too often it’s not the sort of representation that I can brag about, much less put my trust in.

With power comes responsibility, folks. Duh.

If the fellow down the street fails in his marital vows, the ripple effect is usually limited to family and close friends. But if an authority figure (this can include ministers, politicians, talk-show hosts, judges, etc.) fails to uphold his marital vows, the ripple effect can be huge. The failure of the former (the guy down the street) can result in a broken family. The failure of the latter (let’s say, the president) can result in a broken country.

After all, look what rippled down to schoolgirls who suddenly concluded that oral sex wasn’t actual sex. If the president can do it, why can’t they?

All politicians make vows to us, not promises. Usually they even rest their hands on a Bible to increase the significance. They all vow to faithfully execute their office. The higher up the food chain, the more restrictive and meaningful those vows become. At its apex, they vow to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And how often can it honestly be said that a politician upholds that vow?

Sometimes I hear the argument that just because a politician can’t keep his pants on, it doesn’t affect how he executes his office. Yes, some people actually say that, usually because they’re desperately trying to defend their partisan preferences over the good of the country. My answer is that one is the extension of the other. Marital faithfulness – vowed before God – is tied intimately to the faithfulness of one’s professional obligations and honor.

With power comes responsibility. If someone is inclined to treat their marital vows so lightly, why should anyone believe they’d treat their campaign promises more seriously? Give me a break.

I’m saddened for Elizabeth Edwards that, in the midst of her extremely serious health difficulties, she must now become an object of pity as well. Some of the dignity surrounding her struggles has been taken away. How sad that her husband holds her in so little regard that he can sleep in another woman’s bed while she is fighting for her life.

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