Oh, the affairs of man. In recent years many worthy candidates for the office of President of the United States have had their efforts short-circuited by the new and unforgiving standards regarding marital fidelity. And many would-be candidates quietly decline to run because they fear an indiscretion in their past may come to light.
A good example is Gary Hart, the former senator from Colorado who sought the presidency in 1984 and 1988. The clear frontrunner for the Democratic nomination in 1988, Hart was a dynamic leader with some of the most creative and brilliant ideas of any politician in the last quarter of the 20th century. However, when several news organizations reported him as having an extramarital affair, he was hounded out of his candidacy and he beat a hasty retreat from the public arena. In the process we lost an able thinker who was putting forth ambitious policy initiatives. He certainly would have made a better nominee than Michael Dukakis, the dour technocrat who headed up the Democratic ticket and lost in 1988.
Had the current standards been applied to the past, we may have been deprived of such luminaries as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
Roosevelt’s accomplishments and contributions to our society and civilization are too numerous to fully detail. Not only did he lead America through the Great Depression and World War II, but he helped ordinary people with programs such as the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that brought electricity to the rural South. The TVA was just one of the many alphabet-soup programs Roosevelt started to relieve the agony of the Depression. He also established the Social Security system that is still lifting millions of senior citizens out of poverty. Roosevelt is consistently ranked as one of the greatest three presidents in U.S. history.
Now imagine if Roosevelt had been disqualified from seeking the presidency because of his longstanding affair with Lucy Page Mercer.
Eisenhower commanded the largest military force ever assembled when he led the D-Day invasion and freed Western Europe of the Nazi tyranny. As president, Eisenhower authorized the Interstate Highway System that proved so vital to U.S. economic growth and the suburbanization of America. He also showed tremendous courage in placing the Arkansas National Guard under federal control and sending in the 101st Airborne Division to assist black students in integrating Little Rock Central High School. He showed further intestinal fortitude in his presidential farewell address when he warned of the dangers posed by the military industrial complex.
Now imagine if Eisenhower had been denied a chance to be a general and president because he allegedly had a mistress named Kay Summersby.
John F. Kennedy was a vital leader who pushed us to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth” in the decade of the 1960s, as he stated in his special address to Congress in May 1961. He married the refined and cultured Jackie Bouvier. She bore and raised the children and accompanied her husband to cultural events. But since Jackie most likely was not too interested in sex, Jack Kennedy took his sexual needs and desires elsewhere. If Kennedy could compartmentalize in this way, and if Jackie could tolerate what she obviously knew about his transgressions, then why shouldn’t Kennedy have been allowed to serve as President? Yes, he was perhaps leaving himself open to extortion, but this is only because he had to keep his affairs a secret. Does marital infidelity have anything to do with the ability to govern?
Bill Clinton was an effective president despite being serviced in the Oval Office by an intern. If Hillary could stomach his behavior, then who else’s business was it? Isn’t it far better to have Clinton in the White House than a Calvin Coolidge? Coolidge may have remained monogamous but he slept for almost half the day and lacked the energy necessary to lead. Both Kennedy and Clinton could trace their drive and energy and dynamism directly to their loins, just as Coolidge could trace his laissez-faire attitude to his lethargy.
Man was hard wired hundreds of thousands of years ago to hunt, gather and spread his seed. If ancient man had stayed faithful to one woman, the results would have been calamitous for mankind as a species. The life expectancy in those hunter-gatherer days was under 30 years. Most children were stillborn, or died in infancy or childhood. Women often died during pregnancy or childbirth. Problems like ectopic pregnancies were almost always fatal. So man literally could not wait for one woman to have a child and raise that child with her. Man could not afford to form a nuclear family based on monogamy. If he had not been out impregnating other women in the meantime, the human race would have become as extinct as the dinosaur. Monogamy and the way men’s brains are wired constantly work at cross purposes. Why penalize the best candidates when their sex drives may actually enhance their performances in office?
A presidential candidate like Herman Cain lacked the fundamental knowledge and intellectual foundation necessary to be President. He should have been dismissed based on these deficiencies. However, he should not have been ruled out based on allegedly having a mistress.
We should spend our time deciphering who has the knowledge, intellect, wisdom, and the mental, physical and spiritual qualities, to be an effective leader. We should not be concerned about whether a candidate slept with someone other than his or her spouse.
The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents, William A. DeGregorio, Barnes & Noble Books, 2002
John F. Kennedy’s Special Address to Congress on the Importance of Space, May 1961