The Character Issue


Nick Beaudrot and Matt Yglesias want to know what I think about John McCain's less-than-heroic treatment of his first wife. Beaudrot writes:

If you think a candidate's behavior in his or her personal life bears relevance to his merits as a Presidential candidate, McCain's dalliances with other women and near gold-digging appear fundamentally disqualifying, roughly on par with anything Rudy Giuliani did to his spouses.

Well, as a card-carrying defender of the Freak Show, I see no reason why McCain's 1970s behavior shouldn't be an issue in the Presidential race; if McCain's beloved high school teacher is relevant to the campaign, then so is his treatment of Carol McCain (and their children). I don't, however, think the comparison to Giuliani quite holds up: Not only because Rudy's callousness was considerably more public than McCain's, but - more importantly - because McCain's first wife has remained friends with him, and supported him politically, which contrasts sharply with Rudy's estrangement from his ex-wife and children. And this difference probably explains why McCain's '70s caddishness hasn't become a big issue in the past, and won't become one in this election cycle: The American people, I expect, will take the view that if the wronged party seems to have forgiven McCain for jilting her, it would be churlish not to do the same.

As for my view of the matter - well, as I've mentioned before, I tend to agree with James Poulos that an America in which politicians had a more difficult time recovering from flagrant private misbehavior would be a better place to live and vote and marry in. It's not that I think an adulterer can't be an effective political leader; it's that I'd like to see the social costs of sexual misconduct go up, at least on the margins, and having certain avenues to prominence closed off to you if you decide to ditch your family and take up with a younger, richer, healthier woman seems like a reasonable cost to impose on would-be divorcees. All of that said, though, we're obviously a long, long way from that state of affairs, and things being what they are, I'm not going to argue that social conservatives should deliver the White House to Obama in order to make a futile protest against the decline of masculine honor among our politicians.

Photo by Flickr user ChristheDunn used under a Creative Commons license.