Habemus Papam. That’s what the Vatican says when it elects a new Pope. It also should be what delegates scream at the Republican convention when the party’s presidential candidate is chosen, because not even papal candidates’ personal lives are subjected to the kind of scrutiny reserved for GOP hopefuls. The puritan blade-sharpening has officially begun this week with an Austin Chronicle newspaper advertisement targeting primary front-runner Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
“Have you ever had sex with Rick Perry?” asks the ad, placed by the Ron Paul-backing “Committee Against Sexual Hypocrisy”—a “group” consisting of a single guy by the name of Robert Morrow. Morrow encourages the public to call or e-mail him so he can “help you publicize” your experience if you are a “stripper, an escort, or just a ‘young hottie.’ ”
The American and world economies are circling the drain and already some are suiting up to play “Indiana Jones on the Trail of the Family Jewels.” Before the expedition moves any further along—and you can be sure that it will—I’d like to provide some handy guidelines for political sex-life vetting.
First, can we acknowledge that a person can refrain from screwing anyone other than his wife and still have absolutely no problem screwing the country? These two things aren’t necessarily morally equivalent. The person who arguably screwed the country hardest and longest in recent times was an FBI agent named Robert Hanssen. A member of Opus Dei and faithfully married to a religion teacher, Hanssen was convicted of cheating on America for 22 years by selling secrets to the Russians. It’s unlikely that any presidential candidate could match Hanssen’s commitment to his wife or religious devotion, but equally unlikely that any of them could do nearly as much damage to the country.
Conversely, the greatest President America has ever known was also the only divorced one: Ronald Reagan. Maybe if divorced candidates weren’t dismissed outright by the party faithful, as was Rudy Giuliani in 2008, we’d see an overall improvement in the talent pool?
It just isn’t reasonable to expect all candidates to have avoided divorce by the time they reach the average presidential age, unless they married relatively late in life. Nowadays, we all live far too long. Who we are—and who our partner is—changes as we grow. Sometimes those changes are irreconcilable. Granted marriage is a contract, but contracts are susceptible to amendment and termination, especially if the original conditions of engagement no longer hold. I realize that marriage is a special kind of contract because it’s sometimes signed in a church. Alright, so let’s assume God’s there when that happens. Even so, I can’t see God being like some kind of hard-core union boss who forces the miserable party to suck it up and endure the other on account of tenure or seniority.
Candidates guilty of marital infidelity can’t automatically be dismissed either. The married politician who legitimately falls in love with someone else and engages in some overlap before terminating his or her marriage and jumping into another relationship ought to be given a pass. In theory it’s not ideal, but there has to be some accounting for the human factor. Would you sell your car before even test-driving a new one and making absolutely sure you want it? Didn’t think so. Especially if you knew that your old car would take all your furniture and appliances with it, then pull up to your bank and do its best imitation of a Brink’s armored truck.
Then there’s the Dominique Strauss-Kahn French politician-style cheating, which can be summed up as, “Let’s see if I can max out my hi-score of 20 babes per day.” Variations of this include the “girl in every port” politician, or those who engage in hooker jugging within and across states à la former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer. This kind of infidelity is either an exercise in ego inflation or a sign of some deep pathology. These politicians should be automatically disqualified, as they’re far too busy being consumed by other issues besides the country’s.
Yes, certain types of pathological infidelity (Eliot Spitzer) should count out even a qualified hopeful. As for divorce, anyone remember a President named Ronald Reagan?