Is Divorce Good for a Candidate?

With this third and final post, we wrap up our day of divorce. Find our other D-day contributors here and here.

History shows that we Americans generally like to elect politicians who have a stable family life, or at the least the appearance of one: a spouse, perhaps a couple of children, etc. Among candidates running for national and statewide office, the spouse is a pretty standard prop at campaign stops.

But is that model due for a change?

Among the most severe assaults on a politician’s image is the sex scandal or, in this country, even a generic affair. In recent days, we have seen:

1. One N.Y. governor lose his job for visiting a prostitute.

2. The incoming governor admit to past affairs (and his wife admit to her own).

3. That the former Newark mayor gave sweetheart land deals to his own extramarital sweetheart.

4. That a former New Jersey governor’s gay affair may have in fact been a menage-a-trois that included his own wife …

5. Etc., etc., etc.

This is to say nothing of the Times‘s infamous story about John McCain or the fact that Hillary Clinton’s political career can never be divorced from her husband’s dalliances. And let’s not even try to sort out the Rudy Giuliani story.

Could it be that marriage is in fact becoming a political handicap? With marriage — especially a public marriage, especially in this country — comes the responsibility to neither stray, cheat, nor deceive. With modern media and mores colliding with primitive desire, is the bar simply set too high?

Michael Bloomberg, the New York mayor who has occasional presidential inklings, was elected twice even though he is divorced. (He does have a serious longtime companion.) I am wondering if perhaps we are ready to start electing divorced men and women by the bushelful, perhaps even bachelors and bachelorettes. Does the political benefit of a solid marriage still outweigh the risk of that marriage blowing apart in public?


#7 "Why people think a candidate's personal life is ever anyone's business is beyond me. Voters should focus on the candidate's ability to perform the job. These personal issues have no direct bearing on that. - Posted by Chuck"

Ideas like those espoused in #7 would create even more narcissistic and sociopathic politicians, not less. The idea that anyone, let alone social servants like politicians, can maintain dichotomies between "personal" and "public" lives is fallacious. The two aspects of one's life may not be jointly exhaustive, but they are also not mutually exclusive.

Furthermore, public officals are supposed to be subserviant to the common good. What disastrous scenarios could come from demanding an impenetrable barrier between "personal" and "public" lives? The whole reason Governor Spitzer's trysts were revealed was because the Feds thought his money activity could have been related to some type of extortion, a scenario that could easily develop from "personal" encounters with prostitutes.

And there are many other scenarios that would work against the common good if there were no scrutiny of public officials' "personal" lives.


Kevin D.

Wow does anyone REALLY care??

Mind your own yard and stop gettin all crazed. Do your best to be a loving communicative person yourself, end of story.

Politicians? Who cares.


Keeping your word and commitment is important!!! Don't marry and have children unless you plan to do just that! Divorce causes chaos. Once you have children, suck it up and behave yourself.


"If our elected leaders can't get it right, how can they inspire the citizens to do so?"

Is this a joke? When was the last time *you* looked to an elected leader as a personal role model?


I am so taken up with being thankful I'm not married to Robert in Washington DC that I can't even comment anymore.


I don't think the question posed is a serious one, and consider it rhetorical. Clearly people should be judged on the quality of their character, married or not. It has always bothered me greatly that in our society, it is always thought that a married person is somehow more "trustworthy" or "respectable" than a single person generally speaking. Society in general fears those that march to the beat of their own drum, and in our society, it is expected that you marry and "settle down" (that phrase being yet another dig at "unsettled" single folk). Why do you think the term "family man" is so often used when trying to paint someone in a favorable light? I guess if you don't have a family, you must have all kinds of negative traits?

I really can't stand how so many people allow society to dictate to them how they should behave (i.e., get married, raise a family...), and then they follow suit without stopping to consider whether it's really for them.



I agree that a candidates' personal affairs should stay there, they ususally have little relationship to leadership skills. Most of the presidents I admire, with the exception of Lincoln, had unfavorable personal traits: mistresses, slave children, questionable business deals, etc. And even Lincoln did NOT have a strong family.
Let's stick to the issues and the candidate's record.


RE # 9 Anon: I don't think anyone is advocating that our public officials consort with prostitutes. Where did you get that notion from? Rather cynical.

There is a legitimate issue, however, being raised here. Do public officials retain an expectation of privacy? Do public servants have a right or expectation that it is OK to trash their political opponents and attempt to destroy their personal lives because they have political differences?

For example, a sitting Atlantic City, NJ gay council member, John Schultz, is accused of attempting to bribe another AC Council member by taking part in the videotaping of the council member receiving oral sex froma prostitute.

Now I doubt whether many people would approve of the council members relation with the prostitute under most circumstances, but the guy was set-up by political opponents and videotaped by another council person in a motel room. Do we expect that's OK too?

Public servants aren't perfect human beings because no one is perfect. Everyone has their personal faults. But ought we judge public servants on their private lives? or on their public service?

To put it another way, would Abraham Lincoln have been re-elected as President today with the unusual degree of facial asymmetry he suffered from?

How many persons with AIDS who happen to have facial asymmetry are excluded from service, or not hired by an employer for a job for which they are perefectly otherwise qualified to perform because of such superficial judgements?

Would Thomas Jefferson have been elected president if his relationship with Sally Hemings had been publicized?

We need to re-examine our political process in this country and try to reinvigorate civil discourse. The United States of America is an historical product of the Enlightenment which gave birth to civil society. Today we seem to have lost any standards of decency regarding civil discourse and civil society as we take comfort in the ideological and partisan divisions that only separate us as a people further. What we as a nation have lost is the ability to solve the country's most urgent problems. That is a recipe for disaster.

The question, it seems to me, is locating ourselves as a nation: are we grounded in our historical, enlightened founding, or are we an empire tottering on its final, exhausted legs, like the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the film The Illusionist?

It is a pressing question that needs our urgent attention: our future depends on it.



It's unfortunate that the electorate in this country is still so intellectually retarded that they believe having a spouse and a religion per se makes anyone a better person or a better leader.


As an European American(sic) I'll say (hoping no to be lynched by the mob), that many American women are more "practical" than the European ones. Even if they are in love they will not marry a guy who doesn't have enough money to provide a comfortable life. In a way, a small one, they are right. A marriage based more on money than on feelings can resist but is not a happy one. Better the divorce.
Mr. Bloomberg is very lucky -he found an intelligent, good looking woman. And of course she is very lucky also. Bravos for the New Yorkers who elected him and didn't care about his private life.


Strenghts and weaknesses go together. If inability to maintain monogamy is a weakness then what is the corresponding strength that goes with it? Risk taking, open mind, confidence (perhaps overconfidence), ability to nurture two opposing thouhts (over rationalization??)

Jack Welch, Bill Clinton are good at what they do.

Incidently divorce is no longer a big deal in India as well -- for both genders.


As a married person who spent a lot of time apart from my spouse due to work obligations, I can feel the difference in myself when I'm quasi-single and when the two of us are together. When alone, I'm much more likely to do something quirky, whereas being with another person makes me more normal. I think this is true for many other people, which could explain why we like our politicians to be in a relationship. Also, the knowledge that a politician was skilled enough to get married and stay married is an indicator that at least one person in the world could tolerate them. For many jobs, people skills aren't necessary, but for politicians they are a must.


Let me raise some eyebrows. Having grown up in America and traveled the world I chose an Asian wife. I have been married once (17 years) and would never marry again especially to one from my own flock. Why?

Going past all of the feelings, heart, love, candies and flowers there are a few indisputable facts.

1) Most American divorces are instigated by women.
2) More than half of all USA marriages end in divorce.
3) It seems that few American women marry for love and even fewer stay married for the sake of children. It seems money is their over riding goal.
4) I would argue that most American breed wives are totally ignorant of the proper role and duties in married life.
5) Simple fact - men as a general rule do not buy things they do not need. 70% of all items bought at the local mall are purchased by women. (Read b/w the lines.)

A key question in any single guy's well informed mind is, "will she jump ship"? American women have a reputation for running at the first sign of trouble.

Now the political mob is probably the least loyal amongst us. When we put politicians and marriage together then do not expect much. If we want to know why family, social and political life is so riddled with failure in USA then one needs to look no further then the marriage. Where marriages go the body politic follows. (Down the tubes.)

Washington, DC


Joel L. Friedlander

Only one of our presidents, Ronald Reagan, was ever divorced, and that divorce was followed by a marriage lasting over half a century. Marriage is neither a handicap or a benefit to a public servant. I would rather not speculate on the reasons why some marriages work and others don't. Also, I don't want to set myself up as a judge of the righteousness of our public officials, except to say that generally, a dalliance isn't very solid evidence of moral degeneracy.

The entire Spitzer thing was actually an example of what can happen to you if you have too much money. If the former governor was more like the rest of us, or ever really had to work for a living, he would hardly have spent $5,000 for a couple of hours with a pretty girl. He would have had more respect for the value of a dollar. I can only imagine what the list of people who did spend that sum of money looks like.

Finally, I am getting soooo sick of the sexual self righteousness of the American voter. They aren't righteous themselves and shouldn't expect much more from their leaders. Its a case of the pot calling the kettle black, and that is not a racial remark.


Ross in MD

Anon #9
Right on.

We should expect our leaders to have HIGHER moral standards than their constituents, not LESS. We should not dismiss these scandals at all, because they say a lot of a person's character and how trustworthy they are.

Fortunately, this election we have a candidate with morals in Obama.


"The vast majority of problems in our country can be prevented through strong families"

There is a lot of doubt on this board about this assertion. As being a foster parent of a teenager I will tell you that a strong family in the early years of a child's life determines their path. My teenager, I believe, will continue to live a life of crime, dishonesty, manipulation, untrustworthiness, laziness, etc. all because of her lack of proper upbringing. At the age of fourteen she is looking forward to being on food stamps and welfare because she knows they are free.

I've seen first hand the negative effect to society that a unstable family life brings. It costs society ALOT for these kids and will continue to cost ALOT as they grow into adult criminals.

No success can compensate for failure in the home.


Brave Ideas. You'll need protection now. FYI the last Govt. in India were run by two bachelors. One a Nuclear scientist and the other a Poet and beleive me the country is still around.


The idea that "strong family" means "a white Christian suburban middle class family with 2.2 kids and a car" is also a curious assertion.


I'm with you, Michelle. Robert has a strange idea of indisputable facts (as in, the world according to him)

But I'd like to address Greg. I read your post and was blown away. I'm not gay, and I admit I tend to be confused about the issue of homosexuality. However it seems clearly wrong to me that our country professes to be about equality when it comes to civil rights, at the same time it continues to exclude certain groups. What your post opened my eyes to is that the reasons typically given for this exclusion are "moral standards" that our own leaders can't even live up to. My heart really goes out to you. It is outrageous.



It's dishonesty and hypocrisy that are the worst for an elected official.

So with apologies to St. Paul, I'd say that sticking to a monogamous marriage is best, but if that's not possible, "it's better to divorce than to burn" in the everlasting fires of voter outrage.