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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Presidential Grace

So if you don't like Bill Clinton because of his inability to stay faithful to his wife, you must hate JFK.  Mimi Alford's memoir came out yesterday, and it confirms much of the worst of what we already knew about the man.  Seymour Hersh and others had already given us a glimpse of what journalists in the 1960s knew about but did not write about, but there's a little something extra when it comes from one of the women herself.

The newspapers lead with the most shocking aspects of the book; i.e. that (1) Kennedy first saw her when she visited the White House for a story for her prep school newspaper; (2) he offered her a job a year later, even though she hadn't applied (pretty impressive, for a high school senior/college freshman to be on the President's mind for a year); (3) he took her virginity in a semi-consensual encounter days after she started work; (4) he had her perform a sex act on aide Dave Powers; (5) he asked her to do one on brother Teddy (who was present when the President suggested it), but she declined; (6) she did drugs with the President; and (7) she was with him the night of the Cuban missile crisis, although they didn't have sex.

Maybe this aspect of character (and that is what it is, after all) shouldn't necessarily disqualify someone from being President (after all, good Presidential candidates are few and far between, if we set the bar too high, no one will apply for the job), but it is relevant.  A lot stuff simply didn't get done during the last years of Clinton's second term, simply because everyone was obsessed with the sex scandal.  That might have been the time to kill Bin Laden, for instance, or to think seriously about Social Security, the environment, or the stock market bubble.  The scandal also gave Congress the cover it needed to pass the Copyright Term Extension Act right under everyone's noses, with the only objections coming from a small group of law professors.  Although the Glass-Steagall repeal was passed several months after the end of impeachment proceedings, I'd like to blame it on Clinton's libido as well, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch.  I'm not sure that anything good came out of that Presidency during or after the scandal, and his final F-You-to-the-American-People Presidential pardons suggest that he didn't care too much about his legacy either.  (It was only after 9-11 --when we all had other things on our mind -- that he was able to rehabilitate his image and pave the way for becoming the esteemed elder statesman/philanthropist that he is today.)

So what if we were to vote based on a candidate's likeliness to commit adultery while in the White House?  Obviously, Gingrich is out.  I think Obama wins this one -- he cares too much about his legacy to take this kind of risk, even though the temptation is likely always there.  Romney is fairly safe in this respect too.  Although Santorum looks rather shifty, I'm not sure that translates into a propensity for adultery.

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