The PenceGra­ham Rule

Mar­riage fidelity isn’t about prud­ish­ness, but hon­esty

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

Mil­len­ni­als and oth­ers of a cer­tain age have not lived in a time when fidelity was uni­ver­sally val­ued and mostly sup­ported by cul­ture — though some­times hyp­o­crit­i­cally — and its op­po­site was roundly con­demned. There was even a time when a di­vorced per­son could not ex­pect to be­come pres­i­dent, though plenty of mar­ried pres­i­dents man­aged to con­duct clan­des­tine af­fairs, often with the in­dul­gence of the me­dia.

How far we have come (or gone) as a coun­try and cul­ture was ev­i­denced by the re-elec­tion of Bill Clin­ton, even af­ter re­ports of his al­leged sex­ual ha­rass­ment of Paula Jones were made pub­lic.

This isn’t about that. It’s about Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and his re­cently re­dis­cov­ered stan­dard of re­fus­ing to dine alone with a woman not his wife, or show­ing up with­out her at a place where al­co­hol is served.

This is some­times called the Billy Graham Rule, af­ter the famed evan­ge­list. It isn’t about prud­ish­ness, as some have claimed in their crit­i­cism of Mr. Pence, it is about pre­serv­ing one’s rep­u­ta­tion and “avoid­ing the ap­pear­ance of evil,” as evan­gel­i­cals like Rev. Graham and Mr. Pence would put it.

Some years ago, Rev. Graham spoke at the Na­tional Press Club in Washington, D.C. There was a re­cep­tion be­fore his speech in the bar area. One of the guests asked Rev. Graham if he could have his pic­ture taken with him, and Rev. Graham turned to me to ask if I would hold his soft drink while the pic­ture was taken.

I later asked him why he did this. He said it was be­cause some peo­ple who saw the photo could con­clude that he was drink­ing an al­co­holic bev­er­age, a no-no among South­ern Bap­tists, though some seem to have mod­i­fied their po­si­tion in re­cent years.

Rev. Graham once told me about his own pol­icy of never be­ing with a woman with­out his wife present, or hav­ing a woman pick him up at an air­port when he trav­eled, un­less she was with her hus­band. It is a stan­dard I em­ploy, not be­cause Rev. Graham and I (and Mr. Pence) find it hard to re­sist temp­ta­tions of the flesh, but be­cause it is the best pro­tec­tion against all sorts of neg­a­tive things that could hap­pen, or some­one read­ing some­thing into a pic­ture that has the po­ten­tial of dam­ag­ing one’s rep­u­ta­tion.

Mr. Pence’s com­ment was printed in a re­cent Washington Post pro­file, but he first made it in 2002 when he was a fresh­man in Congress at the height of the Gary Con­dit sex scan­dal, in which Mr. Con­dit was ac­cused of be­ing in­volved with the dis­ap­pear­ance and mur­der of his in­tern Chan­dra Levy, with whom he was hav­ing an af­fair. Mr. Pence doesn’t tell oth­ers how to live their lives. He just set a stan­dard for his mar­riage. His spokesman, Marc Lot­ter, tells me “clearly it is work­ing.”

Some fem­i­nists have writ­ten that Mr. Pence’s pol­icy some­how harms women from mak­ing progress in the work­place. Re­cent news­pa­per col­umns by former fe­male con­gres­sional staff mem­bers re­fute that claim.

I’ve been in Mr. Pence’s of­fice. Many women work there, in­clud­ing his deputy chief of staff, his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, his di­rec­tor of in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs and their top deputies.

So what’s the prob­lem? I think it is that the Pence “life­style,” for wont of a bet­ter word, stands as a re­buke to those who have cho­sen dif­fer­ent ways of be­hav­ing, in or out of mar­riage. Deep down inside, most of us know right from wrong, oth­er­wise “Judge Judy” would not be so much fun to watch as she dis­penses truths your grand­mother prob­a­bly agreed with and tried to teach you.

Af­ter all the crit­i­cism about Pres­i­dent Trump’s past with women, one might think the crit­ics would wel­come a whole­some ex­am­ple like the Pences. But in Washington, some peo­ple like hav­ing it both ways.

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