June 28, 2004

Ryan and the meta-sin 

posted by Paul Smith @ 1:25 AM
Chicago journalist Christopher Hayes writes in The New Republic that the Ryan affair was all "meta-sin" (i.e., the way he bungled the handling of the divorce papers rather than the content) and no actual sin, meaning that, if you actually look at it, what he and wife Jeri did did not rise to the level of something that should bring down a candidate for Senate. Some folks might find their actions objectionable, perhaps, but no serious wrong was done. To wit:
There can't be a meta-sin without a sin; the only reason there's a sin in this case is because journalists are incapable of writing about sex and politicians in any kind of considered or nuanced way--that is, incapable of distinguishing between a sex scandal in which someone did something wrong and a sex scandal in which someone did nothing wrong.
There's no doubt about that fact. But I think Chris somewhat misses the mark:
The point is that Ryan shouldn't be taken to task by scolds for mishandling embarrassing allegations when it is these same scolds who incorrectly define the allegations as embarrassing in the first place. [emphasis in the original]
If Ryan hadn't sealed the files in the first place, Hayes would have a point. I think this was a de facto acknowledgement that Ryan was either embarrassed by his actions (unlikely) or believed it would be a deal-breaker for Republican voters (more likely), long before and quite independent of any media assessment.

Eric Zorn addresses Hayes and defends the media's response thusly:
The point that eludes Hayes is that even if Jack Ryan were trying to cover up a parking ticket, his statements and tactics in the service of that concealment are a legitimate gauge of his character, which in turn many voters feel is a measure of his fitness for office.
Still, what this was all about was sex, reactions to sex and anticipatory reactions about reactions to sex. Nobody would try to conceal a parking ticket. It's time for detente.

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