Friday, June 04, 2010

Rep. Mark Souder's moral failings -- the Michael Gerson version

Michael Gerson's thoughtful commentary in his column in The Washington Post on June 4, 2010 on human nature and virtue uses the fall of Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) as its "text." Rep. Souder, former chair of the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources announced on May 18, 2010, his imminent resignation from Congress acknowledging his long-term affair with a part-time staffer.

Gerson notes that he and Souder both worked for U.S. Senator Dan Coats (R-IN). Gerson went on to be a speechwriter for President George W. Bush. His regular column in The Washington Post often addresses "values" issues in the political realm.

What is striking is the virtue that Gerson is most concerned with -- mercy -- is the one that was most absent from Souder's amendment to ban on federal financial aid for persons with drug offenses on their record added to the Higher Education Act. Souder's ban denied scholarship aid to nearly 200,000 (as of 2006) otherwise qualified potential college students.

Souder's ostentatiously faith-based crusades used Congressional resources (listen to a broadcast on Sept. 4, 2004 of an interview on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday) to harass programs that educated sexually-active gay men on the need to protect themselves from HIV in an era in which AIDS no longer seemed so deadly. Souder attacked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for co-sponsoring an important 2005 conference in Salt Lake City to address the methamphetamine crisis because "harm reduction" was on the agenda.

In July 2009, Souder was the Republican lead on the amendment to the HHS appropriation (H.R. 3293) to try to continue the ban on Federal funding of needle exchanges to fight the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis by needle sharing among injecting drug users. His amendment was narrowly defeated, 211-218.

Certainly when it came to the common foible of young Americans using, possessing or distributing an illegal drug, Souder exhibited neither the humility, nor the mercy that Gerson thinks Rep. Souder somehow exemplified.

I do not celebrate Souder's fall due to his hypocritical indulgence in his sexual appetite (well analyzed in Gerson's column by means of long quotation from C.S. Lewis). But I am greatly relieved that national policymaking is now free of Souder's indulgence in the greater sins of "the pleasure of power," and being a "self-righteous prig" exemplified by the counterproductive anti-drug policies that he authored and fought for.

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