Friday, Dec. 3, 2010 | 2 a.m.
The Hair is not relieved. Of course, the man upon whom the Hair resides, the disgraced senator recently let off the hook by the Justice Department, is — as befits a person of small vision and empty pieties — perfectly pleased. “It’s a pretty nice early Christmas present,” John Ensign said when news broke that he is no longer under criminal investigation.
But the Hair sighs. Long considered Ensign’s best attribute — and the only thing about him that might accurately be called “statesmanlike” — the Hair has always taken its responsibility seriously. A proud, firm, manly prow, it rarely failed to impress. It strove to look as good during the bad times (as when Ensign publicly admitted sleeping with his best friend’s wife) as it did during the good ones (for example, the seduction itself).
When Ensign once spoke, as he often did, of family values, of good Christian values, the Hair appeared virtuous, resolute, an emblem of paternal authority.
When Ensign’s fundamentalist Christian housemates in the infamous C Street facility confronted him about the affair, told him to end it, and he promised he would (before later deciding he wouldn’t), the Hair stood by him by looking chastened but determined to accept responsibility. The Hair said, in its own way: We are manning up for this. No wonder Ensign’s housemates bought it.
When Ensign agreed to help his cuckolded friend find a lobbying job and maybe line up some work, which some saw as violations of the law — the Hair also wondered if it was hinky, but let Ensign chart his own course — it was friendly, reassuring.
And as Ensign struck a rather defiant public posture — as the Las Vegas Sun put it, “He’s been aggressive about his public appearances, refusing to shrink from questions from constituents and voters at forums” — the Hair again did its part, never wilting under the scrutiny. But it made the Hair uneasy: Whereas the man is shameless, the Hair is afforded a slightly higher view of these things.
Now, days after the Federal Election Commission decided there was no problem with the $96,000 Ensign’s parents paid to his (now former) best friend and wife, the Justice Department halted its investigation into the payoff and subsequent actions. The Hair has to hand it to Ensign. Against all expectations — in the media, among Democrats, and most especially within his own party — he has pretty nearly slipped the noose, with only the Senate Ethics Committee left to weigh in.
The Hair should be happy. But it is not. Because Ensign plans to run again. Never mind that the one of the first people he called, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, later issued a statement (“I am sure Senator Ensign was pleased by the announcement”) that was the textbook definition of lukewarm. Never mind that here in Nevada, party support appears minimal and his fundraising efforts even worse.
He’s running. With polls telling him that 64 percent of GOP voters approve of him, and now past the stigma of legal inquiry, he’ll surely go all out.
Which means that by letting Ensign off the hook, the Justice Department has put the Hair back on the hook. Instead of a restful retirement from politics — which, after everything that’s happened, it feels it’s earned — the Hair will spend the next two years vigorously campaigning with Ensign. It will rise, with carefully masked distaste, from the forehead of a scoundrel as he stands in front of town-hall meetings and rural barbecues, making his case that he’s not as bad as all that. Unless the Ethics Committee tosses Ensign from the Senate — unlikely — the Hair will again be forced to provide good-looking, stylish cover for a man possessed of less character than his follicles. Every day will be another reminder that the man below the Hair is also beneath it.