Let's say for argument's sake there is a difference between shame and guilt. The primary definitions of both words are very similar, but following definitions and clarifications show a split. Guilt is feeling bad about something because you know you did wrong. Shame is feeling bad about being caught doing something wrong.
The Republicans have plenty to feel guilt about and to feel shame about, but many Republicans clearly aren't feeling one or the other of these emotions at the appropriate moments. The disgraceful actions of some of the Republican representatives during Obama's speech last night has produced little guilt. The guy who yelled "You lie!" during the speech about a statement that the fact checkers say the president got right and the rude scumbag got wrong was shamed into apologizing for being a rude scumbag, but the apology shows he feels no guilt about making his own facts.
Closer to home, a California assemblyman was undone by that enemy of all politicians everywhere, the live microphone. Mike Duvall of Orange County was waiting for a committee meeting to begin when he started talking to a colleague about how much he was enjoying having sex with a lobbyist about twenty years his junior. He was particularly fond of spanking her, which he really liked because she is such a "bad girl".
So a local TV station gets ahold of the audio tape that they sync up to a videotape from the same committee meeting, and they try to get Duvall's reaction. His reaction is like that of a cockroach to a light going on at 3:00 am, and he scurries away as quickly as he can.
Ambush journalism. So funny!
But within 24 hours of being caught graphically explaining how much fun it is to have your hand in the cookie jar, Mike Duvall, who regularly got 100% ratings from groups interested in the family values issues, feels enough shame to resign his post.
In the 21st Century, this is rare for Republicans. Democratic governors of New York and New Jersey have resigned recently over sexual scandals, but a hell of a lot of Republicans either get caught and decide not to resign. Some, like Mark Sanford, don't seem to show either guilt or shame, talking about the pure love he felt with a woman not his wife and refusing to resign even when people in his own party are talking impeachment.
So at least Duvall resigned when the truth came out. Baby steps are important. There is a famous definition of an honest politician as someone who once bought, stays bought. A slightly less famous take on the honor of elected officials comes from former Speaker of the California Assembly, Democrat Jesse Unruh. Mr. Speaker, very powerful in his day but largely forgotten now, is given credit for these deathless words.
"If you can't drink a lobbyist's whiskey, take his money, sleep with his women and still vote against him in the morning, you don't belong in politics."
And now you may go about your day's business, feeling wiser.
UPDATE: Dr. Zaius also has a post about Duvall and his lobbyist friend, adding the exciting detail of pirate eye-patch underwear! Not to be missed.