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In today’s Washington Post, Monica Hesse dismissed the news of Nevada Senator John Ensign‘s affair with a staffer as . . . not scandalous enough. A crisis management rep provided the money quote, characterizing Ensign as “really vanilla.”

But despite the decidedly consensual, un-kinky, over-18, non-prostitutional nature of Ensign’s affair, the scandal satisfies the one usual requirement for criticism: it’s hypocritical. Ensign is a member of the Promise Keepers, a Christian organization devoted to cultivating “men of integrity”—-or dudes who wouldn’t cheat. He cheated. Perfect!

So, when is hypocrisy not enough?

Earlier this week, I wrote about how razzing politicians for their hypocrisy is often used as a cover for less-valid personal critiques. And so, people who start out criticizing Sarah Palin‘s support of abstinence end up ridiculing her daughter for having sex. People who start out criticizing Carrie Prejean‘s opposition to gay marriage end up ridiculing her for disobeying the rules of another patriarchal tradition—-the beauty pageant. People who start out criticizing Larry Craig‘s anti-gay policies end up ridiculing him for being gay.

And yet, people who start out criticizing John Ensign for his own hypocrisy don’t really have anywhere to turn. There’s no teen pregnancy, a la Bristol Palin. There’s no topless photos, a la Prejean. There’s no prostitute, a la David Vitter and Eliot Spitzer. There’s no closeted homosexuality, a la Larry Craig and Jim McGreevey. There’s no cancer-stricken wife, a la John Edwards. And there are no kinky texts, a la Mark Foley.

All there is is sex outside of marriage, and perhaps that particular behavior hits a little bit too close to home for most sex-scandal critics. So while we’d prefer Ensign and his fellow Promise Keepers not act so sanctimonious in public while cheating in private, most Americans won’t sustain interest in the story because it won’t make them feel better about themselves. Most Americans have cheated. The most infamous of political sex scandals stick because regular Americans can claim superiority over some peculiarity of the sexual encounter—-they can protest that they weren’t cheating when their partners had cancer; they weren’t cheating with a prostitute; they weren’t cheating with a gay man; they weren’t cheating with kinky sex; they weren’t cheating and got her pregnant.

Perhaps we should all take another look at the “hypocrisy” critique we’ve used on these other politicians as well. Are we criticizing them for being hypocrites? Or are we criticizing them for their sex being too kinky, too gay, too online, too knocked up, or too expensive? Do we really hate hypocrites, or do we mostly hate weirdos?