Profumo showed what Sanford, Weiner, Spitzer should have done


Peggy Noonan’s column this week is a good one.

After recounting the Profumo Affair that rocked Britain (and broke a government) 50 years ago, she draws a clear contrast between what a man of honor — which is what John Profumo proved in the end to be — does, and what the likes of Mark Sanford, Anthony Weiner and Eliot Spitzer do.

In case you’re confused — in case you are thinking, “Well, a man of honor wouldn’t get himself into such a situation” — let me remind you that we’re all sinners, in one way or another, some more spectacularly than others. What this is about is whether you do the honorable thing after you’ve done something terribly wrong.

Here’s the best part of the column:

Everyone hoped he’d disappear. He did. Then, three years later, he… announced he’d deepened and matured and was standing for Parliament “to serve the public.” Of course, he said, “It all depends on the voters, whether they can be forgiving. It’s all in their hands. I throw my candidacy on their mercy.”

Well, people didn’t want to think they were unmerciful. Profumo won in a landslide, worked his way up to party chief, and 12 years later ran for prime minister, his past quite forgotten, expunged, by his mounting triumphs.


Wait—that’s not what happened. Nothing like that happened! It’s the opposite of what happened.

Because Profumo believed in remorse of conscience—because he actually had a conscience—he could absorb what happened and let it change him however it would. In a way what he believed in was reality. He’d done something terrible—to his country, to his friends, to strangers who had to explain the headlines about him to their children.

He never knew political power again. He never asked for it. He did something altogether more confounding.

He did the hardest thing for a political figure. He really went away. He went to a place that helped the poor, a rundown settlement house called Toynbee Hall in the East End of London. There he did social work—actually the scut work of social work, washing dishes and cleaning toilets. He visited prisons for the criminally insane, helped with housing for the poor and worker education.

And it wasn’t for show, wasn’t a step on the way to political redemption. He worked at Toynbee for 40 years…

What Profumo did addresses what I’ve written about in the past, about actual remorse and penitence.

He did the right thing under the terrible circumstances that he himself had brought about. Sanford, Weiner and Spitzer have not. Shame on them for that. And shame on voters willing to let them get away with it.

John Profumo

John Profumo

18 thoughts on “Profumo showed what Sanford, Weiner, Spitzer should have done

  1. Worth Swearingen

    Is self-flagellation more noble than self-adulation? For their sakes, we might hope that all rehabbed. For the sake of society, we might hope that all served (or will serve) the public good. I see nothing in their choices in the aftermath of scandal as evidence for or against any of the above. That we feel better when someone chooses a lifetime of shame is reason to feel ashamed.

  2. Juan Caruso

    Brigadier John Dennis Profumo was, until international security concerns related to his indiscretions brought down his party (i.e. the Conservative party) had been Brittain’s War Secretary, a cabinet-level position.

    Unlike the beaucoup lawyers and Sanford involved in many of todays US political scandals, Acting Colonel Profumo had also been awarded the Bronze Star Medal by the United States in recognition of distinguished services in the cause of the Allies during WWII.

    The “Parfumo Affair” resulted in what Brad and most of us regard as honorable acts — resignation and public absence starting in 1963.

    The more recent personal indiscretions of Sanford, Weiner, and Spitzer lacked; (1) not only backdrop of potential lapse in the UK’s national security, but; (2) a recent role model — barely ten years before Parfumo resigned and absented himself, a U.S. president (R M Nixon) had already provided the Western world with that earth-shattering standard.

    Decades later, however, that standard was demolished by another U.S. president (Bill Clinton), who, refusing to resign was nonetheless disbarred in two states for acts tantamount to perjury in connection with Lewinski indiscretions committed in the white House. The main stream media itself aided and abetted Clinton in demolishing the Nixon precedent.

    Now, a decentjournalist, if there any with a brain, should interview David Vitter, a Republican elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 despite admitted connectioin with the DC Madam scandal. As mentioned earlier, the ‘Republichans’ have learned to emulate the standards ‘Democratich’ folks like Ted Kennedy and Bill Clinton set for their supposedly different party.

    As it is now, we do not really have enough competitive between the major parties, who have become cozy teams in one league. And that brings us to a final difference confronted by Parfumo BUT NOT US politicians. The Brits never let stand the mindless pretenses of “collegiality” and court room decorum to the degree our Congress, particularly the 65% lawyer-led Senate, tells us is proper these days.

    1. Doug Ross

      And how many South Carolina media members turned a blind eye to Strom Thurmond’s behavior over the decades he was in office?

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I don’t think Thurmond ever disappeared from the country without telling anyone where he was going, thereby creating a hue and cry that made the whole world wonder, “Where is the governor of South Carolina?”

        Or if he did, he was more skillful at it.

        I think it was Gary Hart who, as much as anyone, changed the rules of the game. He dared the press to follow him around and see it he was cheating. So some reporters did, and caught him.

        1. Doug Ross

          Let’s see – Strom fathered a child out of wedlock and kept it secret (except for the people who knew, which I bet included some in the media)… is that really less immoral than Sanford’s trip?


          How about the story about him having sex with a woman on her way to death row? If that was true, Mark Sanford’s got a LONNNNNG way to go to catch up to Strom.

          Tell us, Brad, were there ever any stories told in the newsroom about politicians who couldn’t keep their zippers zipped? Was that news? Was it worth pursuing? Did you ever endorse anyone that you had heard those kind of rumors about?

          There’s an anecdote related by many commenters on Fitsnews about a certain recent Governor being caught in a compromising position on the Governor’s desk. Apparently his 100 yard dash times were not quick enough to get him out of that situation.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            There are always rumors, about practically everyone.

            My favorite was the one from back during Lost Trust that had a female legislator snorting cocaine and dancing on a table wearing nothing but a string of pearls. Better than that, we heard the feds had videotape of it. It didn’t check out. But that summer, when all that stuff was breaking, we were ready to believe anything.

            The Beasley story is an old one that everybody was all over at the time. The only two people who would know denied it, and that was that.

            I don’t really understand why you’re asking these questions. They don’t really have anything to do with the Sanford, Weiner and Spitzer cases. The thing that unites them is that all three said, Yeah, I did it — vote for me anyway. Nothing like that happened in the past — within my memory, anyway.

          2. Brad Warthen Post author

            And the contrast is between Spitzer, Sanford and Weiner on the one hand, and Profumo on the other. Profumo did the honorable thing.

            That’s all the more important because his sin was so much more spectacular — sharing a mistress with a KGB man, when he held a sensitive Defense post. During the Cold War.

          3. Doug Ross

            That’s my point – are we supposed to admire adulterers who run for office AFTER they commit adultery (John McCain) or who do it while in office but don’t get caught (JFK, LBJ). or those who get caught but lie about it (Clinton)?

            What’s the difference?

  3. Bart

    One of my favorite movies, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”, has a great line by the editor of the newspaper at the end of the movie. After Rance Stoddard told his story about who actually shot Liberty Valance, the editor took the story written down by the reporter, tore it up and threw it into the stove. He said, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

    Unfortunately, we have too many members of both political parties in Washington whose self-proclaimed legendary status is believed and reported by the press as fact. I apologize for not giving the names of the most obvious ones, past and present, my teleprompter is not functioning properly at this time.

    1. Doug Ross

      Just wait, Bart, until we all have free healthcare for life. That will be the crowning achievement to move the current occupant of the White House into the 5th position on Mt. Rushmore.

      All he’s gotta do is work through these nagging little details like how to pay for it, how to implement it, and how to control the rampant fraud and abuse that will come along with it.

  4. Kathryn Fenner

    Well, Strom was a fornicator, not an adulterer. He was not married, nor was the woman. He married quite late in life, the first time, and even later the second.

    1. Doug Ross

      “Well, Strom was a fornicator, not an adulterer”

      You really believe that? The anecdotal evidence is pretty strong that he was both.

      1. Kathryn Fenner

        I have not heard those anecdotes, and I am from Aiken, where he and Nancy lived for a long time. Nancy grew up a couple blocks away.

  5. Bart

    There is another senator who was popular with the opposite sex but his exploits were kept out of the news. He is now retired and living in Charleston. Fact, not fiction.

  6. carol shoemaker

    Anyone know whether John Profumo was in Washington, D.C. around 1945? Have reason to believe he was my father.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *