Ever since The Washington Post published Ashley Parker's profile of Karen Pence, wife of Mike Pence, progressives have fixated on the vice president's personal behavior as it pertains to his relationship with his wife.
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife and that he won’t attend events featuring alcohol without her by his side, either.
That's it. Digging a bit deeper, some context is provided.
The Atlantic reports:
...Pence told [The Hill] he often refused dinner or cocktail invitations from male colleagues, too: “It’s about building a zone around your marriage,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a predatory town, but I think you can inadvertently send the wrong message by being in [certain] situations.”
The 2002 article notes that Pence arrived in Congress a half decade after the 1994 “Republican revolution,” when Newt Gingrich was the speaker of the House. Several congressional marriages, including Gingrich’s, encountered difficulty that year.
Pence seemed wary of this. “I’ve lost more elections than I’ve won,” he said. “I’ve seen friends lose their families. I’d rather lose an election.” He even said he gets fingers wagged in his face by concerned Indianans. “Little old ladies come and say, ‘Honey, whatever you need to do, keep your family together,’” he told The Hill.
The Indianapolis Star adds:
During his 12 years in Congress, Pence had rules to avoid any infidelity temptations, or even rumors of impropriety. Those included requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male, never dining alone with a woman other than his wife, and not attending an event where alcohol is served unless Karen was there.
In a 2002 interview with The Hill, Pence called it, “building a zone around your marriage.”
"If there's alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me," Pence said.
Progressives have rebuked Pence, calling him a "misogynist," as well as claiming that his personal relationship guidelines are "insulting" and "archaic."
Perhaps Democrats simply prefer their male politicians in the mold of Bill Clinton or John Edwards.
While the progressive drum beat against Pence is hardly shocking, what does come as a surprise is The Wall Street Journal's Bret Stephens' take on the issue. On Saturday, Stephens tweeted the following:
The calling card of all religious fundamentalism: terror of women. https://t.co/FTkk47YlBq— Bret Stephens (@StephensWSJ) April 1, 2017
Stephens linked to another tweet from Danish journalist, Martin Burcharth, which reads: "How differrent [sic] is VP from Orthodox Muslim men? Mike Pence doesn't eat alone with women."
This situation is densely-woven. As such, it must be pulled apart thread by thread:
1. Relationship Guidelines
Vice President Mike Pence has – presumably with the consent of his wife, Karen – abided by a set of guidelines in order to avoid impropriety or even the appearance of impropriety. These rules include:
- Not dining alone with women who aren't his wife.
- Not drinking alone with a colleague of any gender.
- Not attending parties where alcohol is being consumed unless Karen is also there.
- "Requiring that any aide who had to work late to assist him be male."
Elected officials in Washington, D.C. are just as flawed as any other human being. Additionally, men and women in positions of power are more frequently the target of unwanted advances, unsubstantiated accusations, and tabloid speculation. Given the environment in which elected officials live, the limitations Pence applies to himself are admirable and prudent.
This brings us to part II ...
2. Mike Pence Applies the Rules to Himself
Martin Burcharth, the journalist quoted by WSJ's Bret Stephens, says: "How different is VP from Orthodox Muslim men? Mike Pence doesn't eat alone with women."
Within Burcharth's question is a sort of straw man. Taken at face value, Mike Pence's behavior is no different from that of an orthodox Muslim. The difference is this: Mike Pence has adopted a set of personal rules by which he lives. These rules are not universal to Christians. He has chosen to abide by what he believes is a set of standards that will help him avoid any appearance of impropriety, given his position in the public eye. It's also likely that Pence recognizes that as a fallible human being, it's wise to avoid situations where infidelity may be a temptation.
On the other hand, an orthodox Muslim man might not eat alone with a woman because his faith prohibits him from doing so. Abiding by the rules of one's faith in this regard isn't wrong, it isn't misogynistic, it isn't insulting.
However, there's a critical difference to be noted. While Pence's rules are personal, an orthodox Muslim might believe that such rules must be applied to everyone, and enforced everywhere because of his adherence to Sharia law. That is misogynistic.
Which leads into part III ...
3. Christian "Fundamentalism" Doesn't Teach Fear of Women
Bret Stephens' tweet implies that Mike Pence's personally adopted rules are a result of fundamentalist Christianity, which allegedly teaches "terror of women." In this way, Stephens has wandered far from the reservation.
Certain faiths – particularly the more radical sects of Islam – indeed teach that women are inferior, and that female sexuality is depraved. However, to draw a line between those extremist teachings and Pence's personal rules is intellectually dishonest.
The vice president's code of conduct as it pertains to his own marriage isn't about misogyny – it's about appearances, respect, and the Christian understanding that every human is fallible.
Christians are taught not to place themselves in situations that could lead them to sin. Some of those situations are written about in the Bible, and some are up for individual interpretation. Pence's code isn't driven by a "terror of women," but by an earnest attempt to avoid sin, and to avoid a very human temptation that might lead to sin. This isn't about women, it's about mankind's flawed nature.
It's disappointing to see anyone so egregiously misinterpret a situation, let alone someone who should offer a more intellectually honest interpretation, given his position.