Asked at a gubernatorial campaign forum the other day whether he had ever violated Title 14, U.S. Sen. David Vitter did what he always does when prostitution rears its ugly head, and ducked.
In 2007, he admitted committing a “very serious sin” but has steadfastly refused to satisfy the media’s hunger for titillating detail ever since.
On this occasion, he initially affected to not know what Title 14 is but was clearly playing for time to fashion his response. Vitter is an attorney and a former state legislator. He would have to be an idiot not to know that Title 14 of the Revised Statutes is the body of Louisiana’s criminal laws. And Vitter is way smarter than your average John.
It is evidently to avoid being asked about hookers that Vitter has been skipping forums where questions are not submitted in advance. He came to regret making an exception in the case of the Alliance for Good Government. As it turned out, only one of his opponents, Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne, also showed up, so Vitter could have done his usual disappearing trick without attracting snide comment.
He has been liable to them ever since he was exposed as a client of the Washington, D.C., madam, Deborah Jeane Palfrey, who was facing a long prison stretch when she committed suicide a year later.
Whatever Vitter got up to with Palfrey’s girls was obviously outside Louisiana’s jurisdiction, so, to that extent, he could have answered the Title 14 question with a simple no and moved on. But he was wise not to do so, for legalistic quibbling would only spur more questions for him to ignore.
In refusing to answer this one, however, he may have told us more than he intended. His failure to deny violating Title 14 might logically be construed as an implicit admission that he had been up to similar tricks on his home turf.
That might be a stretch, except that a couple of local whores have gone very public with tales of Vitter’s illicit escapades.
On the one hand, a congressman who buys sex in Washington will presumably be somewhat more circumspect among his own constituents, but, on the other, vice is notoriously habit-forming. Since Vitter has refused to say anything beyond his vague initial confession, conjecture will continue.
His dummying-up strategy has certainly worked so far. Following an easy re-election to the Senate, he is now favored to face Democrat John Bel Edwards in the runoff for governor. His transgressions were so long ago that many of Louisiana’s famously Christian voters might feel the time has come for forgiveness.
Besides, all he did was visit prostitutes, so let us not make a federal case out it, even if Vitter before that adopted the treacly pose of a family-values champion. Politicians have committed many worse crimes than can be laid at his door and pretty much have to be hypocrites to get elected in the first place.
Surely, there can’t be many voters who are unaware of Vitter’s fall from grace, moreover, and polls suggest he is less popular among women than men because of it. Harping on Title 14 may not make much difference unless further dirt emerges.
Opposition researchers are still trying to dig some up, but time is getting on. It looks as though his opponents will have to make do with the old scandal.
At the forum, Vitter accused Dardenne of planting the Title 14 question, but that seems unlikely because it was clearly unnecessary. Nobody needed prompting. Everyone wants Vitter to elaborate on his serious sin.
A Baton Rouge TV reporter certainly did when Vitter qualified to run a couple of weeks ago. Hours after asking about prostitutes in the parking lot, the reporter got fired because, he claimed, the Vitter campaign threatened to yank its ads.
The campaign and the TV station both denied that any such threat had been made, and perhaps it was just coincidence that the reporter lost his job that day. Otherwise, what we have here is one vindictive campaign and a TV station run by wimps. Which is the more likely explanation is your call.
We’ll never know for sure. Same goes for whether Vitter ever violated Title 14.
James Gill’s email address is email@example.com.