Promise Keepers. Family Values. Moral Decay. Moral Majority. Focus on the Family.
Abstinence Only. Proposition 8. DOMA. Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
What do all of the above have in common? Hypocrisy.
Yes, I'm back with the blogging. How could I not? Sen. Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford scandals within days of each other?
Moralistic politicians who use the idea that THEY have all the "RIGHT" answers to how to behave and that other people should be FORCED to live by those answers who then completely disregard their all holy rules and then have the gall to refuse responsibility for their actions.
How could I ignore that?
Ensign and Sanford not only raise the issue of "holier than thou" ethics and morality to win elected office, they are among the most ardent, vocal critics of others who do not follow their personal arbitrary standards. Sanford DEMANDED that Clinton resign after admitting his affair with Monica Lewinsky. His argument? That anyone who holds a public office should be held to a "higher" standard than others when they have ethical lapses.
NOW, however, when it's his own lapse, that same standard doesn't apply according to Sanford.
Does that surprise anyone? Someone with the twisted logic and rigid egomaniacal perspective on things from the beginning has something wrong with him.
Mark Sanford does not care about people. Mr. Sanford does not care about Monica Lewinsky or Hilary Clinton. He does not care about the people of South Carolina or schools. He does not care about his wife. He does not care about his sons.
Mark Sanford cares about Mark Sanford.
I even feel sorry for the Argentine mistress.
He will throw her under the bus when it serves Mark Sanford's needs to do so.
Here's the real question: Why does it seem that the people who yell the loudest about rigid moral values and have such harsh, intolerant views are always the ones who deep down are hiding something?
Larry Craig? Mark Foley? John Ensign? David Vitter?
And why is it often about sex?
As a cognitive behavioral psychologist, I have not practiced Freudian-based psychotherapy in a while.
But sometimes, Freud was a pretty smart guy.
You see, even back then, people did some strange things that people couldn't explain.
Like laughing when they should be crying. Or dreaming about cigars.
And he did his best to explain why people did these odd things.
He even had one that could make sense of rigid moralistic people who harbor secret dreams of getting nasty that perhaps they can't accept within themselves.
It's called reaction formation, which is a psychological defense mechanism in which anxiety-producing or unacceptable emotions and impulses are controlled by taking the sometimes extreme opposite public tendency.
Freud scared a whole lotta people at the time (and still does) with this concept.
People who cannot deal with their own deep seated desires often suppress and repress these desires but not without a price.
The theory goes something like this.
Men who have pedophilic impulses (having sexual desires for children) often choose public careers that openly are hostile to pedophiles. This serves two sometimes opposing purposes.
First, they believe that by becoming a public beacon of morality, they can overcome deeper, sometimes unconscious lascivious desires. The more you fight against it, the safer you will be.
The second purpose, and the more sinister (yet still possibly unconscious) possibility, is that holding yourself up as beyond reproach, the less suspicious people with be of you holding the deeper opposite desires and ironically, the more trusting of you they will be with their children.
Initially in some cases, people who use reaction formation may not understand or even be aware of these deeper frightening emotions or impulses. All they know is that they hate child molestors, or adulterors or homosexuals.
That's the beauty of the mind. It can create an "illusion" for you of self-righteousness, even as it covers up deeper desire and needs that are simmering beneath the surface.
In my book, Loving Ourselves, I spend a little time talking about the phenomenon of publicly homophobic men who secretly have sex with men on the side. This topic has always fascinated me as a gay person who knew about his own sexual orientation very early in life and chose to deal with it directly rather than hide or deny it (except for a very short time during puberty).
In the chapter dealing with these very specific types of self-esteem problems, I describe scientific testing this theory of reaction formation among heterosexual men with varying degrees of homophobia.
During the study, a same of self-identified heterosexual men were given a questionnaire asking their opinions about homosexuals and homosexuality and based on the responses, ranking them in terms of negative, neutral or positive feelings about gay men.
Then, in an ingenious second phase of the study, the men were connected to a penile plethysmograph, a device that measures blood flow into the penis, and volunteers were shown a variety of pictures of attractive women and men in various states of undress.
At the end of the study, the results of the blood flow measurements were correlated with the "attitudes toward homosexuality" scale they had taken before.
Ironically, the men who tested as having the most negative attitudes toward homosexuality showed the most penile reaction to the pictures of men!
Back to Sanford et al.
If Mr. Sanford was an isolated case of someone who preaches morality and taking responsibility who, in a moment of weakness, made an impulsive mistake, then I can see moving on. I also might be able to stomach him personally if he held himself to the same standard that he applied to Clinton (resign from office).
However, because this seems to be a fairly frequent occurrence (i.e. the most loudly moralistic zealots are the most likely to be themselves morally flawed), then perhaps we should get more comfortable holding some healthy skepticism for those in the political and power circles of the world who "doth protest too much"?
Do all supporters of Prop 8 harbor secret homosexual fantasies?
Do all celibate clergy have deep-seated sexual identity issues?
Do most extremists have something to hide?
The answer is probably "no".
But we should keep our eyes open for the next racist, homophobic, family values leader who assures us that they have the "correct" version of the truth and that intolerance is the ONLY option. They may have something to hide.