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March 29, 2015

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How moral failure took down Sen. John Ensign


Steve Marcus

Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011. Ensign’s wife, Darlene, stands by him at left.

Ensign Announcement

U.S. Sen. John Ensign announces he will not seek another term in 2012 during a news conference at the Lloyd George Federal Building in Las Vegas on Monday, March 7, 2011. Ensign's wife, Darlene, stands by him at left. Launch slideshow »

When John Ensign was making his first bid to be a senator, another public figure in Washington — the president at the time — was in political cross hairs for an affair he had with a staffer named Monica Lewinsky.

The end of Bill Clinton’s term as a public servant in Washington was consumed in a barrage of impeachment proceedings, accusations that he’d abused his office, and a chorus of calls for him to resign, in which the future Nevada Sen. Ensign joined, saying: “He has no credibility left.”

Clinton’s political legacy would be forever tarnished by his affair, but it wouldn’t be entirely defined by it; nor would it bring about the end of his career the way Ensign’s episode of infidelity did almost 13 years later.

There are those who talk of Ensign’s fall from political grace, and the resignation that takes effect a week from Tuesday, with a hint of pleasure at the irony of the situation, brought about by the hypocrisy of his actions. There are others who will defend him as the consummate objective moralist, who when confronted with his own faults, heeded his own advice.

Ensign may not belong at either end of that ethical spectrum. Because the pendulum of Ensign’s moral purism, it seems, swings both ways.

Ensign certainly fell on the sword of family values — morals he’d spent much of his career espousing as absolute, and portraying himself as embodying.

But Ensign also voluntarily departed from the dogmatism of the values-conservative position more often than most, especially in the wake of his scandal.

In the past few months, we’ve seen Ensign, who’s been no friend to the gay rights agenda, break from his party to support a repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy — a departure only eight Republican senators made.

We’ve also seen the anti-abortion Ensign scold members of his party for holding up budget negotiations over a disagreement on funding for Planned Parenthood, which the GOP objected to because it performs abortions.

To be sure, his softened, pragmatic approach to such social issues came late in the wake of the fallout from his own ethical scandal that inspired three investigations — the last of which, by the Senate Ethics Committee, is still technically ongoing.

His affair was just one in a stream of extramarital revelations that seemed to pour out of the C Street house a few years ago; that being where a band of politically conservative brothers lived and prayed together just off the Capitol campus. But even in a sea of salacious scandals involving such things as high-class prostitutes and junkets to South America, there was something extra uncomfortable about Ensign’s story, which at its core was a tale of the senator betraying his best friend.

It’s hard to think of someone who does that as having been anything but the most flawed type of moral crusader, who in the end, learned a bit of humility from his own mistakes. Or maybe it’s just that the senator was always more of a pragmatist than he let on.

Even as he resigned, Ensign wasn’t apologizing, or conceding that his credibility was to blame. He appeared to be simply taking stock of the Senate ethics investigation, and heeding a different bit of his own more recent advice to others. It was on the Senate floor this month where he urged the GOP not to hang the budget up on funding for Planned Parenthood (even though he would later vote to defund Planned Parenthood and against the budget deal, for other reasons).

“We have to look at what we can do, what is achievable,” he said then.

There, Ensign apparently felt, as a senator under scrutiny, he’d reached the end of his ability to achieve.

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  1. How much is this special election going to cost Nevada . We can't afford a special election . Pick someone besides Heller . It may be the wisest most conservative decision that Brian Sandoval makes . If he picks Heller it proves he puts the interests of the republican party ahead of the financial health of Nevada .

  2. What did Santa bring Senator Ensign Christmas of 07? Why Doug Hampton asking John please stop! That was the Christmas Eve when both couples were staying together at the Ensign home. Hell of a gift? Confronted by the husband of the woman you were bouncing. This was not how he planned to spend Christmas? Did Darlene know? Did Miss that's what he'd called Cindy during their more private moments tell her? Oh God what a mess!
    So you're f--king the broad who's working for you or whatever. Now you want her to go away. Go away gently, no noise, don't tell the wife, and for god's sake don't tell her husband. His father would have known how to do it the right way the old fashioned the safe, proven time tested Las Vegas way, you give her or as your consigliore would advise you to avoid the tax consequences give her kids $95,000 , tell her to consider looking for another job while she and her husband remain on the payroll give her a dead fish wrapped in a newspaper remind her that Vegas can be a very dangerous place.
    excerpted from "Sex and Politics, by Lee Geiser
    a kindel or Nook e-book

  3. If Ensign had simply been a Democrat he could have survived because sleazy is the one thing the Democrats do well, just ask Barney Frank. But it helps to have the so-called "mainstream" news media in your back pocket too. Hell, they even gave a job to Eliot Spitzer.

  4. Many Americans think Las Vegas holds corrupting influences. But, LV doesn't hold a candle to Washington D.C..

  5. Lets put this in proper perspective ----Ensign did the right thing, Clinton did not!!!!!!

  6. Let's put this thing in proper perspective--We now have this side show behind us and can now move on with the business of the nation and the state.

    We can look forward to full-time representation for a change, instead of the paying someone who was more concerned about saving himself and his political career than the well-being of those who he was supposed to serve.

    I hope it brings to closure for his family as well. I don't know where his wife finds the courage to stand by him as she does in this oft-published photo.

  7. The loony-tunes from the "conservatives" JUST DON'T GET IT...

    We could possibly care LESS who John BOINKS.
    THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE SEX; can't you get that through your thick skulls?
    His "Moral Failures" are but the tip of the iceberg:

    These are the things that concern Nevadans.
    If Ensign had merely had an affair, he'd be a LOCK for re-election.

    "The Act" was outrageously poor judgement.
    "The Aftermath" was an outrageously self-serving abuse of power, and ripped the mask off the "Family Values" guy for eternity.
    Turns out he's one ugly dude, and an emotional child.

  8. I will not comment here on Senator Ensign private problems, but we should not forget his courageous voting record. He bucked his own party, and voted TWICE against the shameful bailout of trillions of taxpayer dollars for the big banks and wall street, who in return have continued to foreclose on record numbers of homes, and tighten lending.
    In my mind, these acts of elected officials are far more shameful and far more hurtful. How about recently extending Bush tax cuts to the wealthy for 2 more years, while they try now to trim the budget on the backs of the poor, seniors and disabled. This is real evil, and they are all still in office about to do more harm. Leave Senator Ensign alone and his family, as he goes back to private life. His voting record is honorable and nobody is mentioning that.

  9. This is not a moral failing, it is businesses as usual for Republicans, Liberloonitoonians whose philosophy is based on greed and hate and selfishness. Do they even try to hide it as they trek to the failed and boring Aryan Rand movie? "Adolf Shrugged"

    Actually, Hitler's philosophy is superior to that of Aryan Rand's because at least it allows for magnanimity and largess for the "chosen race."

    Ayn Rand philosophy says it is okay to starve your own mother to death on Mother's Day if it benefits your own selfish interests.

    I'm glad to see that the movie going public and the important Hollywood film critics have called the movie poorly put-together garbage. I thought the Republicans and the Libernazis were for "excellence?" Their movie stinks on dry ice.

  10. An important point needs to be made about Ensign's vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell": it wasn't courageous at all. He voted for the repeal when it needed only a simple majority. When the cloture vote came up--meaning to stop the debate--he did what Republicans have been doing on most Democratic acts: he voted against cloture. THAT was the key vote where Democrats needed Republican votes. He didn't provide it. But because so many know so little about Senate procedures, he came off as looking like he suddenly has gotten over his own bigotry and hubris.

  11. Ensign did a terrible thing and let Nevada pay for it. He should at least pay our state back with him saying "Sorry to disrespecting the citizens of Nevada". Sorry, he preached self accountability but didn't have it himself. But you know he'll make a great Lobbyist in Washington D.C. in the next couple of years.

  12. While pretending to be a christian of some sort, Ensign lied to the people of Nevada, his wife and his God. He didn't just succome to his weakness, he revelled in it while trying to pass his "moral code" on the rest of us. It is a shame there is not a death penalty for politicians.

  13. Basically, John Ensign is a four-flushing hypocrite...But you knew that, didn't you...