Amendment: Congress shall recognize no votes or opinions about the sanctity and preservation of marriage from its members who have been divorced and/or remarried while their first spouses are still alive. (To say nothing of those who are married while not-so-secretly fucking someone on their staff.)
Around age 11, I struggled with the definition of hypocrisy ("1. The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness... 2. An act or instance of such falseness...") and began to wonder if everyone around me was a hypocrite. My mother and father. My teachers. My basketball coach, with his beer gut, making us run extra drills up and down the court. The girls in my class went through a phase of calling each other "big, fat hypocrites." I finally called them out on it ("You're all big, fat hypocrites!"). Their response, I suppose, was to ignore me. This is key to all hypocrisy: indifference.
Now I live in Washington, D.C., where everyone is in fact a big, fat hypocrite in some way or another, and accusations of such elicit similar yawns. Hypocrisy is what we do here, an art form, especially if there are free cocktails involved. People set all sorts of fundamental political and moral and religious beliefs aside for, say, an awards reception or some nosh at a 400-person "barbecue" in a backyard in Georgetown. Turns out someone you admire works for some group you most certainly don't admire; or they wind up dating gay Republicans. In the car on the way home you can giggle all you want about what assholes they all were, but in general, you don't bother calling a hypocrite a hypocrite in this town.
Washington would be somehow incomplete without its sexual hypocrisy: The sanctimonious congressman shtupping the comely intern, at the expense of his second or third marriage, is ingrained in both popular and factual lore. Newt Gingrich leaving his second wife for a House staffer 23 years younger (while at the same time railing about morals) should be forever commemorated with a diorama at the as-yet-unbuilt Smithsonian Museum of Family-Values Hypocrisy, as should the quadruply married misadventures of pill popper Rush Limbaugh. Gingrich and Limbaugh should have been outed as hypocrites by the press, according to people who are constantly enraged at the Washington press corps's predilection for playing it too safe, but they don't know how hard it is to actually nail (heh heh) these kinds of stories down. (Gingrich outed himself as a hypocrite; a Florida prosecutor outed Limbaugh.)
"Hypocrite" has no sting anyhow; it's a dead word; you learn to live with it. Nothing strikes a Washingtonian as more parvenu than to get all huffy about a congressman's (or a senator's, or a president's, or George Will's) latest act of "do as I pontificate or legislate, not as I do."
But this Washingtonian can get huffy with those mofos who keep getting rid of wife number one so they can move on to wives two through four, and beyond, while having the gall to speak out in defense of "traditional marriage." There really oughta be a law. Earlier this month, as the one-man/one-woman amendment was getting ready to sputter out in the Senate, a few bloggers and activists once again found usefulness in calling up lawmakers who supported the amendment banning gay marriage and asking them about their own failed nuptial vows. The not-so-new thing is to also throw in questions about sodomy (Has the congressman ever received a blowjob? Has the congresswoman ever given up the anal for a man she really, really loved?), because, surprisingly enough to some, antigay crusaders are not just hung up on the sex acts that gay people engage in. To align oneself with the antigay movement sooner or later means you'll be listening to a harangue on the evils of all nonmissionary, non-baby-making sex, including self-stimulation. Consider the well-meaning logic of this Prince-Albert-in-a-can telephone exchange, as posted on gay-rights blogger John Aravosis's Americablog days before the amendment vote:
Good morning, Senator Allen’s of?ce.
Yes I’m calling to see if the senator [George Allen, a Virginia Republican] supports traditional marriage.
Yes he does; he supports the bill.
Okay, and he’s divorced?
Uh [uncomfortably] yes, sir.
[She quickly adds] But he’s remarried.
What was the cause of his divorce? Do you know the reason? Is his wife remarried?
I don’t know, it was a long time ago, sir.
Okay, could you tell me if the senator masturbates? Can you tell me, do you masturbate?
Two springs ago, a couple of Senate subcommittees held hearings at which the Republicans' promarriage movement was needlessly affirmed via expert testimony, with slightly sinister undertones of what that might mean for Americans who choose to stay single. The message was that a nice, strong marriage is the only thing that cures social ills. (The straight, Christian kind of marriage, that is, setting aside as usual the hypocrisy of insisting that certain chronically unmarried people, such as gays and lesbians, should be forbidden from ever partaking in the healing waters of monogamous matrimony.)
The problem, of course, as noted by a reporter from The Hill newspaper, was the number of senior Republicans at the time who'd flubbed up their prior marriages, including John McCain (AZ), John Warner (VA), Ben Nighthorse Campbell (CO), Kit Bond (MO), Mitch McConnell (KY), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX), and another two, the ambiguous Lindsey Graham (SC) and Susan Collins (ME), who'd managed just fine as never-married singles (and you'd be within your rights to wonder—perhaps even ask—if Graham and Collins are abstinent). So much is made of the marital failings of the senators and House members debating this issue that you might get the impression that the divorce rate in Congress is higher than average. But, delving into the clips and biographies, you discover the opposite is true. This could mean that our Congress is exceptionally happy at home, or that they've already enforced the proposed amendment: For the right to be a jerk in public, you need to stay married to one.
When you walk up and ask the lawmakers about their failed marriages, within the context of their votes on the matrimonial state of others, they tend to flee. The lawmakers on the subcommittee did not feel like sharing any insights they may have gained from the hearing or their personal experiences with marriage. (From the May 19, 2004, edition of The Hill: "'I'm not getting into all my personal life... All I can say is I got married and I'm the happiest man in town,' said Warner. Bond declared: 'I'm very happily married now.' Other divorced Republicans were similarly shy about discussing whether it might be perceived as hypocritical for divorcés to extol the virtues of healthy marriages. Hutchison said, 'Marriage is a very important institution in our country,' but would not respond to questions of whether it would be incongruent for divorced politicians to tout the joys and benefits of marriage.")
My proposed amendment does Washington's power brokers (from both the right and the left) an enormous favor: They can leave spouses they no longer love, chase unlimited skirt, and be legally barred from all political discussions and votes about marriage. They can abstain from all family-values debates on this technicality. (Further court interpretations may eventually spare them from ever having to use their families in photo ops, or from discussing their dating life with a Washington Post gossipeuse, or from being asked whether or not they like internet porn.) The Beltway can at last breathe easy: hypocrisy, out in the open, and regulated! Republicans will rant up a storm about the Hypocrite Amendment's destruction of the progress they've made in making people feel bad about themselves, but, in private, they'll get down on their knees and thank us. (The hypocrites!)
Hank Stuever is a writer at The Washington Post.