2002 Pulitzer nominee American Culture

They Don’t All Do It and They Don’t All Lean on Voters

Loose Leaves column, 1st published Sunday 26 August 2001 in The Morning News of Northwest Arkansas

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 2001 Donrey Media Group

Would a man who would lie to his wife — and lie regularly and evidently successfully for a good year — lie to voters?

Did someone say Bill Clinton? It’s not the fault of any particular politician. This long bout of queasiness and two-faced public and private hypocrisy about adultery includes Colo. Sen. Gary Hart in the 1988 Democratic presidential campaign.

Remember this Golden Oldie from 1976? “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes I will do — and I have done it — and God forgives me for it.”

Yes. Jimmy Carter.

Or, “Easy, boy.” That was Bob Dole, 1996 GOP presidential candidate and former Senate leader, being paid earlier this year to tell an actor-dog to quit barking at the scantily clad, caffeinated sugar-water swilling-shilling Britney Spears. And she’s a teen-ager.

Some powerful men have always messed around; prestige accelerates seduction. Most behave. Carter claimed to feel guilty about normal fantasies. Bob Dole healthily jokes about ogling.

These men — as well as several senior Republicans whose conduct was exposed during Clinton’s impeachment (not just Li’l Abner’s Senator Phogbound or Shoe’s Senator Belfry) — despite their confessions proved to majorities of voters their ability to lead through long resumes and evident persuasive and organizational skills.

What we are left with, today, are cases like those of former state legislator Jim Hendren. In a bid to continue a career of public service, the conservative Republican from Sulphur Springs is running for the 3rd-District congressional seat recently vacated by his uncle, Asa Hutchinson, who resigned to run President Bush’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

Before anyone announced candidacies, this became a closely fought race. It’s a primo job, congressman.

There’s lots of political talent, and ambition, in Northwest Arkansas. Because of term limits, there are quite a few former elected officials; they may have day jobs, but they no longer have prestige. Also, their family members may plan to “Stand by my man,” no matter what, to further ego or ambition themselves.

Hendren publicly mulled running, withdrew then jumped in. Last week when forced by exposure, Hendren, accompanied by his wife of almost 16 years, explained that he had a nearly yearlong extramarital affair, apparently ending sometime in 2000.

A one-night stand, or even a weekend romp, might be a momentary indiscretion. One year — OK, “nearly a year” — is not a lapse in judgment. Running a stop sign is a lapse.

Would a man who would regularly lie to his wife lie to constituents?

Jim Hendren, 38, has been blessed with an understanding family: A wife, and children ages 4 to 14. They haven’t thrown him out. He has been blessed with a terrific church: Its elders want him to continue teaching Sunday school.

Sulphur Springs, indeed all of that part of rural Benton County, his friends and colleagues everywhere will and should stand with him.

That does not entitle him to stay on the ballot.

All of us know men and women who have succumbed to temptation — not just to adultery but to greed or gambling or expressed anger etc. — and those of us with strength, honor and charity do what we can to lift up the fallen, to forgive them, pray with them, break bread with them and do business with them.

Besides, nearly all of us may well be similarly unfit for public viewing of our private lives. We continually circle that darn pile of stones, wondering whether to pick one up to throw or to run like hell to avoid being struck.

Jim Hendren, with his warmth, intelligence and early amassing of political skills, has a strong future in any endeavor he chooses. Someday, some other day, he could win elected office.

He plans to stay on the ballot for the Sept. 25 primary, which he could take if the other candidates are revealed to have worse faults. Then he would go on to fight the Democratic nominee at the Nov. 20 special election.

Hendren had been the front-runner; he could win.

Then he would start out and remain “the congressman who. …”

Jim Hendren should withdraw. Tomorrow. He should be a Southern gentleman and retreat, be a good sport and sit this one out. So he can come back.

Life in Washington, whether before the cameras or behind the scenes, is not for the weak. We voters must focus on which man or woman can best serve this district and this country.

At the end of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” the leader of the assassins, Senator Brutus, foreseeing defeat, has his servant Strato hold out a sword. Brutus, the ultimate dangerous coward, runs into it: suicide.

Think Strato felt proud to be loyal and obedient? Had second thoughts? Became nauseous? Think Hendren is asking voters to be his Strato?


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