The thing is, Mark Souder is — how to put this? — unattractive.
Which is not to say he’s ugly. No one’s rushing to carve him in marble, but on the grand continuum of looks, he falls somewhere in the middle, like nearly all of us. If middle age should hold any consolation, it should be that we’re no longer judged on our hawtness quotient. Anyway, I’ve known many objectively homely people who prosper sexually, and I bet you have, too. Good looks isn’t all it takes to be attractive.
Let’s not discuss what Mark Souder looks like today, because really, that has nothing to do with his unattractiveness.
He does not, in the strictest sense of the word, make one want to draw near. Politicians should have at least a modicum of charm, and Souder has none. In my opinion, anyway, which you should maybe discount, because he was elected once and comfortably re-elected six more times, so obviously somebody liked him. But everything about him, to me, just…grated.
He was a right-wing, family-values Christian elected during the 1994 GOP sweep, back in the Newt Gingrich/Contract With America days. He said from the beginning he believed in term limits (the whole Class of ’94 did, remember?) and wouldn’t run for more than three. When it came time to walk the talk, he reneged, saying the census had redrawn his district, so the pledge was nullified. He lost some supporters then, but not enough.
And even if I weren’t inclined to despise him for his politics, there were his campaign ads. In years when he wasn’t being seriously challenged (most of them), he bought up chunks of talk-radio ad space in the fall, and he’d deliver these 30-second cornball sermonettes, in his unattractive, Porky Piggish voice, about the lessons he learned as a boy growing up in Grabill — hard work, faith, family, etc. In what should have been an early hypocrisy alert, it should be noted that when Souder grew up and could live anywhere, he chose not to live in Grabill.
Grabill is a small town in suburban Fort Wayne, Amish, very conservative, that has in recent years thrown in with agri-tourism, in that there are many antique stores and olde-tyme shopping opportunities. Chief among them is Souder’s General Store, run by guess-who’s family, where you can buy penny candy and Amish clothing and the like. The story goes that Souder became a conservative when, as a teenager, he helped with payroll and was appalled at how much the government required they withhold from employee checks. He was, however, also a member of the Apostolic Christian Church, one step to the left of Mennonites and traditionally pacifist. This gave young Mark the best of both worlds — bedrock conservatism and an open-and-shut case for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam War.
But guess where he stood on the invasion of Iraq? Shock and awe, bitches! You can see, perhaps, why I find him so deeply unattractive.
(I covered a lot of this territory a couple years ago, here. Read if you’re so inclined.)
As his time in Congress lengthened and his seniority gave him more power, he used it for some frankly awful ends. He’s in favor of the endless drug war, and is author of the Drug-Free Student Loan Amendment, which bars federal financial aid for any student convicted of a drug charge, down to simple possession of marijuana. (He claims it was misinterpreted by the evil Clinton administration, and was only supposed to apply to students so convicted while in college. Oh.) He’s one of those northern-state congressmen who likes to chastise Texans who don’t want to build a giant fence with an accompanying army on their southern border. He’s pro-intelligent design, anti-gay marriage — you know the drill. I see via his website that he’s also opposed to online video poker. Hallelujah, there’s something we can agree on.
He’s also pro-abstinence education, but I’ll leave the chuckling over that to the folks at TPM.
I have to say this: Of all the things I thought might bring Souder down someday, sex is the last thing I would have considered. Money, yes. Sex, no. He’s just not attractive enough. Again, set aside his looks and tell me, what part of this man’s personality, style, affect would be attractive to any woman? Does he seem like the kind of guy who can tell a good story, even a good joke? Do you get the sense all his time in the corridors of power has left him with even a modicum of sophistication, someone you wouldn’t mind being seated next to at a dinner party?
The most interesting thing I ever read about the man came not long after his election, when the Contract With America was proceeding through Congress, and it came time to cut arts funding, so that no museum would ever display another Robert Mapplethorpe photograph again. Souder, I read, was having second thoughts; he’d recently started learning French horn, and was being taught by a member of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. He was troubled to learn that slashing arts funding would hurt a lot more orchestras and children’s theater groups than it would gay photographers and the curators who loved them. Now that’s something I could have talked about with the guy, but when the time came? He voted with the herd. So much for the arts broadening a man.
I think I’ve read too many novels, because when these things happen, when powerful men take proactive steps that they know hold the seeds of their destruction, I want to get inside their heads. Why, Tim Goeglein? Why, Mark Souder? Why, in one’s 50s, when the hot blood of youth has cooled considerably, does one take up with a married woman? She’s no hot-fudge sundae of erotic possibilities, just your basic cute northeast Indiana Republican hausfrau, with a bit more polish than the ones you see shopping at the mall in Christmas sweaters. Maybe, like a lot of guys who fall well short of the George Clooney looks standard, he thought that he would never again find a woman other than his wife willing to go to bed with him, and decided not to deprive himself of the experience. Or maybe he was, like Mark Sanford, actually in love.
But here’s the thing these guys will never, ever understand: It doesn’t have to be this way. We’re all adults here. We know how hard it is to stay married, particularly when you’re separated from your family all week. Everybody’s human, and we all have feet of clay. If you were a Democrat, you might have gotten away with this. (At least, at this writing. The reports are saying this fling would have landed him before the House ethics panel, which suggests it was more than a little slap-and-tickle between adults.) They don’t get that all that family-values crap is a double-edged sword, and if you live by it, you can die by it, too.
Or maybe he’s not that complicated at all. From his statement:
It has been a privilege to be a part of the battle for freedom and the values we share.
Apparently he sees himself as a warrior, too. And that “share” part? Whaddaya mean “we,” white man? I don’t cheat on my husband.
In honor of this happy day, a bloggage fest of Soudernalia:
The youthful indiscretion had been going on six (!!!!) years (!!!!!!!). Trysting spots were public parks, probably because he couldn’t afford a $50 Red Roof Inn room on a congressman’s salary. The rumors were hot and heavy, which I have to assume means much of the Fort Wayne media knew about it. His paramour, “a strawberry blonde, also worked as a Mary Kay cosmetics consultant and is married to a successful homebuilder and Kosciusko County Commissioner. On Facebook, where she maintained a profile, she routinely sent high-fives to Souder — clicking “Like” –when he posted his congressional activities on his page.” All of which I had to learn from the Washington Post. (I expect a weaselly Kevin Leininger column by the end of the week, full of Scripture and admonishments not to judge, etc. And that will be the end of it.)
But let’s luxuriate in it while we can, eh? And now, I click a big Like for all of you, and turn it over to the snark.