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Jewish World Review May 16, 2000/ 11 Iyar, 5760

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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On adultery and leadership -- THOMAS JEFFERSON, Benjamin Franklin, Winston Churchill, FDR, Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, LBJ, Newt Gingrich, and Bill Clinton --- leaders in the hearts of men, as well as possessed of a great deal of success with the hearts (among other things) of women. With the latest revelations about Rudy Giuliani's dating habits while married mayor of New York City, several questions come to mind. Where do these people find the time and physical prowess for affairs? Presently, being at the approximate age of these Don Juans, I spend my free time perusing the Dr. Scholl's aisle for the latest technology in corn pads and gel inserts and computing the maximum daily Aleve allowance. These quests and queries cut into adultery time.

The question that weighs heavily on the minds, and hopefully not the feet, of those of us who abandoned dating with matrimony is whether it is possible to have a non-philandering leader.

The crop of national figures whose marriages have not involved extra-curricular activities evidences a perplexing dearth of charisma and leadership: Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Gary Bauer, Steve Forbes, Jimmy Carter (I include him despite his heathen confession that he committed adultery in his heart many times), Gerald Ford, Spiro Agnew, Hubert Humphrey, and Richard Nixon. These marital true-blues are the fodder of late-night comics and/or suffered defeat at the polls and/or ballot box. There was, however, Lincoln, thus far immune from the accusations of free love. However, there will no doubt be a scholarly article proclaiming him gay. I believe Mary Todd Lincoln has already made the lesbian literature.

Why do we favor the infidels so? Do we subscribe to the nonsensical theory that personal and public lives have separate moral fibers and choose as leaders men whose personal lives play out like Jerry Springer dramas with Brooks Brothers wardrobes? Was Gary Hart simply ahead of his time? And why is Ted Kennedy continually coronated as Massachusetts' senator despite death- inducing dates, divorce, and spring break habits that net arrests for nephews? Our commander- in-chief presided at a Washington press dinner that had the White House correspondents howling at a depiction of Ken Starr with a cigar. The media types loved this spoof of a presidential dalliance that embarrassed frat boys.

We've become quite comfortable with divorced and remarried leaders, to wit, Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and John McCain. John McCain was dating the current Mrs. McCain even as he was still living with the first Mrs. McCain.

Newt Gingrich did not handle the issues of his first wife's cancer sensitively, pursuing divorce as she received treatment. Most recently, he pursued a Capitol Hill staffer while still living with his current wife. Is a less-than-perfect marriage necessary for a better leader? And why doesn't a longstanding and successful marriage in those who seek office produce admiration or votes?

Why is there no relationship between faithful marriages and character when judging political figures? It's troubling to revere someone for their thoughts, programs and ideas when they can't conquer what the common man does so readily --- loyalty to spouses without staff help. Perhaps it is too much to ask for a moral authority among our politicians. It's tough enough to find morals among politicians. It's tough to find even a normal politician.

There is an odd psyche that accompanies national political figures. Leonard Garment, a man close to the non-philandering but curious Richard Nixon, said "the presidential gene is filled with sociopathic qualities." We see the same in Hollywood where the morals of gerbils abound (and often the gerbils are involved in their immorality plays if that Richard Gere story holds any salt) and what is politics but Hollywood for those with a lesser screen image?

Mr. Clinton's legacy is that he brought the two together. Ingrid Bergman was banished for having a child-out-of-wedlock, but Hollywood evolved and today Madonna has a hit song, 1.5 children, both of which were fathered by different men neither of which was her husband. Mr. Clinton has made fidelity irrelevant. He has made the president but another People figure.

That celebrity status, particularly when they're naughty, sells newspapers and magazines. There really is no mystery to the leadership/philanderer issue. The media designate who gets a pass and who must suffer marital instability as a disqualifier for office. Mayor Rudy will not enjoy the moral pass that has shrouded the Clinton White House. For the media moral pass applies only to those with proper ideology. Newt Gingrich was banished and Henry Hyde was scorned "mean conservatives' personal lives are always inextricably intertwined.

The Clinton White House, in an inexplicable twist of fate, will be the beneficiary of the Giuliani misdeeds. Hillary, formerly known as Hillary Rodham Clinton, will become the next Senator from New York because of the shambles of Mr. Giuliani's personal life. The Clinton legacy with its odd psyche has made our attitude toward infidelity about the same as the Brits toward dental work. It's not a high priority until comics and news types decide it is.

Surely there is a evolving leader somewhere who will refute the philanderer hypothesis. One can hope, one can dream, and one can do both in the foot remedy aisles of Walgreen's.

JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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03/07/00: Hope and pray that religion remains a force in politics
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02/08/00: McCandidate McCain: Flirting with principles
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01/25/00: Stroke of the pen, law of the land: Clinton's Camelot
01/18/00: Off the Rocker Rorschach Test
01/11/00: Oprah's lemmings
01/04/00: Struggling mightily amidst the comfort
12/23/99: Confused fathers
12/14/99: Drop-kicking the homeless
12/07/99: Turtles and teamsters, side-by-side in Seattle
11/29/99: When conservatives behave badly
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11/18/99: The elusive human spirit and accountability
11/11/99: Succumbing to the intellectual child within with the help of crackpots and screwballs
10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
10/14/99: Inequality and injustice: It's the big one
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09/30/99: The monsters of epidermal parenting
09/21/99: The Diversity Hoax
09/15/99: Waco Wackos
09/09/99: Selective censorship
09/01/99: The village, the children, judicial imperialism and abortion
08/24/99: Naughty Newt?
08/17/99: In defense of Boy Scouts and judgment
08/10/99: Ruining the finest health care system in the world
08/03/99: Nihilism and politics: ethics on the lam
07/26/99: Of women, soccer and removed jerseys
07/23/99: Not in despair, a mere mortal doing just fine
07/20/99: "Why me?" How about "Why us?"
07/13/99: Bunk, junk & juries
07/06/99: An Amish woman in a Victoria's Secret store
06/30/99: That intellectually embarrassing Second Amendment
06/24/99: Patricia Ireland eat your heart out --- but check out the recipe in 'women's mags' first
06/22/99: Dems and the Creator coup
06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2000, Marianne M. Jennings