For some time, Vice President Mike Pence has refused to dine alone with any woman other than his wife, Karen. This rule, which Pence has observed since at least his days in the House of Representatives, is a modified version of Billy Graham’s longstanding policy against eating alone with a woman unless that woman was his wife, Ruth.
When this report resurfaced in 2017, Pence was raked over the coals. Why? Well, it’s one thing for a minister to refuse to eat alone with anyone other than his wife. It’s quite another for an elected official to have this rule. The “Mike Pence rule” resurfaced earlier this month, when a longshot Republican candidate for governor of Mississippi famously refused to let a female reporter interview him unless one of her male colleagues was present with her. While he has been relentlessly pilloried as a sexist, he has at least one high-profile supporter–Franklin Graham.
Mississippi Today, a newsmagazine that covers state issues, wanted to shadow the three candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary. As part of that effort, reporter Larrison Campbell wanted to follow state representative Robert Foster on a 15-hour drive to the Gulf Coast. Foster, who represents a slice of the Mississippi side of the Memphis area, was willing to agree–provided one of Campbell’s male colleagues come along as well.
Foster’s reasoning? According to Campbell, Foster was concerned about the possibility of someone snapping a picture of them together and jeopardizing his campaign. For that reason, Foster promised his wife, Heather, that he would follow a modified version of the Graham/Pence rule during his campaign. He agreed to never put himself in “any situation that may evoke suspicion or compromise in our marriage.”
Campbell’s editor, R. L. Nave, rejected the conditions out of hand as sexist. When this news broke, Foster was relentlessly pilloried. However, he refused to bend in an interview with CNN. Watch here.
Foster openly admitted that he would have no problem allowing a man to ride along with him, but didn’t want to chance being alone with Campbell for extended periods of time. As he put it, “This is my truck, and in my truck we go by my rules.”
Foster was relentlessly pilloried for this, but maintains that his critics were just trying to smear him for living his faith. He doubled down last weekend, putting out bumper stickers with the slogan “My Truck. My Rules.”
When Graham saw this, he stood up and applauded.
Um, Franklin? This is far from being just “common sense.” There should be a degree of trust in any marriage that is truly strong. If a man truly loves his woman, there should be no issue with him being alone with someone other than his wife–as long as he knows the difference between who merely has his friendship and who has his heart. The same should hold true for a woman.
As Washington Post columnist Monica Hesse noted when this controversy first broke, Foster and Pence’s rule sends two very bad messages. For one, a politician who imposes such a rule is effectively saying that his marriage vows were “so flimsy that you can’t be trusted to uphold them unless a babysitter monitors you.” Additionally, it is rooted in the assumption that “a man and woman together are necessarily engaging in compromising activities.”
Hesse also noted that imposing this rule effectively “keeps women out of the room” for important decisions, and could thus stunt their career prospects. That’s not just sexist–according to Southern Methodist University law professor Joanna Grossman, it may also be illegal.
Writing about Pence’s application of this rule in 2017, Grossman wrote that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not allow an employer to “set the terms and conditions of employment differently” on the basis of sex. For that reason, she argued that Pence’s refusal to dine with women alone could amount to discrimination. If Foster were to be elected governor and hold to the Graham/Pence rule, he could also potentially be in hot water.
Foster hasn’t caught much fire since famously declaring that we need weapons of war to protect our rights from “socialist liberals.” Indeed, the last poll of the Republican primary shows him circling the drain, at a paltry nine percent–behind Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves and former chief justice Bill Waller Jr.
You would think that in a state where Republican primaries are essentially a contest on who can out-conservative the other, Foster would be doing far better. One has to wonder if this is sign that it’s possible to be too wingnutty even for Mississippi Republicans. If that’s true, not even Graham’s backing may be enough to save Foster.
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