No stones for Ensign

The former animal doctor locks himself in a hotel room with his lover, who happens to be his wife’s best friend. His spiritual guru drives by, recognizes the cars and calls: “I know exactly where you are. I know exactly what you are doing. Put your pants on and go home.”

The doctor, a failed Promise Keeper, replies, “I can’t. I love her.”

When Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., finally leaves the hotel room, he tells his spiritual adviser that he wants to marry Cynthia Hampton, longtime friend, maid of honor at Ensign’s wedding, and now Ensign’s employee.

That’s 2008. Within months, potentially illegal cover-ups begin.

I read the public report about Ensign’s affair submitted to the Senate Ethics Committee in May. Under investigation by the Justice Department, the human drama described in the report seems worthy of Nobel Prize-winning novelist J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace—only with cheesy soap-opera dialogue.

Though I’m politically 180 degrees from the former senator, I can’t decry Ensign as a power-mongering womanizer. Seems wrong to list Ensign alongside horndog Bill Clinton, who never begged to marry Monica, or Arnold Schwarzenegger, who unblinkingly led a double life for a decade.

In fact, underneath the faux tan and spiffy hairdo, Ensign may have been a sad married guy who fell in love with a married woman he’d known since she was a 23-year-old food service worker.

He put aside all thoughts for his wife, Darlene, his teenage kids, best friend, Doug Hampton—not to mention his Christian ideals and political ambitions—and let human desire take over. Self-absorbed and short-sighted? You bet. Results? Repentence, failure, hush money and desperation.

It’d be a transformative chain of events, if Ensign could manage the necessary self-reflection.

Is Ensign that human? Some signs point to yes. Ensign advocated for the Humane Society in Congress and joined with three Democrats to sponsor the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act. Before he became a career politician, he’d been a veterinarian in Las Vegas.

It’s hard to imagine a conniving, soulless Ensign saving the life of a puppy.

Familiar backstory: The Ensigns and Hamptons were friends since both couples married, within months of each other, in 1986-1987. They vacationed together, lived in the same neighborhood, sent kids to the same private schools (for which the Ensigns helped pay). Doug Hampton and Ensign started a Vegas Christian men’s golf tournament. Ensign hired Doug as administrative assistant and Cynthia as a treasurer for his political campaigns.

In the report, Cynthia depicts herself as a reluctant lover, sleeping with the senator because he’s needy, she’s “a mess”—or simply to save her job. The affair starts in November 2007 when Ensign asks her to “meet with him.” She asks if he has “lost his mind.” He replies, “Yes.” He is “persistent and relentless.” She is “vulnerable.” Cynthia’s husband, Doug, is seldom home, which gives the Hamptons “little time to be together.” Ensign and Cynthia meet on weekends.

Doug finds out about the affair via a text message on his wife’s phone Dec. 23, 2007. Christmas Eve involves confessing, crying, meeting with the kids—then the two families celebrate the holiday together. The affair is over. For a month. In 2008, Ensign proposes marriage to Cynthia at the National Prayer Breakfast and makes $1,000 worth of phone calls to hernot on the taxpayers’ dimeduring a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the affair finally ends for good, political games ensue. Ensign apparently abuses his political and financial power, as detailed in the public report. He now faces the consequences of his cover-up attempts.

Is it possible that Ensign could emerge from this mess open-minded and less judgmental? My inner idealist hopes so. I’ll kick myself, though, if he shows up, down the road, working on Sharron Angle’s political campaigns.