The February issue of Vanity Fair has a scathing and gossipy article about the recent marital breakup of Richard Mellon Scaife and his wife, Margaret Ritchie Rhea Battle Scaife. Scaife, a wealthy and major backer of conservative (read: political and economic) causes, gave $1.8 million in the 1990s to The American Spectator to investigate Bill Clinton (i.e., Whitewater and all that and more). To give you an idea of the depth of Mr. Scaife pockets, in this interim period before the divorce is legally effected, a court ordered "interim support payments of $725,000" ... a month. Per month. According to the Post-Gazette's website, battles have been pitched over a "94-page itemized list of art and objets, from a million-dollar Magritte to an $1,800 set of asparagus tongs."
In 2005, Ritchie hired someone to tail her husband. In December of 2005, the detective
took pictures showing the reclusive 75-year-old billionaire [Scaife] with a woman named Tammy Vasco, a tall, blonde, 43-year-old whose criminal history includes two arrests for prostitution. The pair was photographed at Doug's Motel, a roadside establishment near Pittsburgh, where rooms rent for $49 a night, or $31 for three hours.
Michael Joseph Gross, author the article, writes that
Richard Mellon Scaife is the man who funded the movement that made "family values" a watchword of the right and badly damaged the Clinton presidency. Many would now dearly love to hang him in the gallery of hypocrites whose Dickensian comeuppance exposes the moral bankruptcy of the culture wars.
Aside from this being a bit overstated and a bit too neat (I think there's more sentiment and concern for "family values" (a weak phrase we don't like) out there in the unwashed masses than whatever can be coaxed by money poured into think tanks; and Bill Clinton helped a little in damaging his legacy), it does put a finger on our national problem: moral corruption up and down the line. Conservative (or liberal) economics or conservative governing principles and politics do not mean virtue.
I am again reminded of a passage that jumped out at me from Jeremiah two days ago, the passage assigned in FSJ's devotional reading guide. The Lord challenges Jeremiah:
Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth; that I may pardon her.
Jeremiah admits that "they have refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock, they have refused to repent." But what comes next jumped out:
Then I said, "These are only the poor, they have no sense; for they do not know the way of the Lord, the law of their God.
I will go to the great, and will to speak; for they know the way of the Lord, the law of their God."
But they all alike had broken the yoke, they had burst the bonds. (5:4-5)
Ah, the "great" ones, those who are the elite, the cream of society. Later (6:15):
Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not ashamed; they did not know how to blush.
That last phrase says it all: No shame, no ability even to blush. But moral outrage over asparagus tongs, that's another matter. (And over adultery. Does that means there's still a glimmer of hope?)
I wouldn't bet much on the promises of our politcal and wealthy classes. We must remember the biblical examples given to us of believers in high places, places of elite access and power: Joseph in Egypt, who refused sexual favors, Daniel and the Three Youths who showed ascetical restraint and devotion to prayer and praise of the true God, even Uriah the Hittite, who honored the warrior's code and discipline while his commander in chief defrauded him of his wife and arranged for his death in battle, and John the Baptist who refused to approve of the moral corruption of his temporal lord.
Virtue cannot be purchased with all the money in the world. Conservatism that doesn't conserve virtue is not simply another variation on the Fall. The primary challenge our nation faces is not economic, it is not educational, it is moral. And our pulpits ring with hollow words telling us how to feel better about ourselves.