The collapse of Herman Cain’s campaign under a barrage of unproven allegations of sexual impropriety has raised a larger issue around the blogosphere: do such things really have much effect on a president’s performance? And if not, should they matter?
This often boils down to a question of morality, and that is just way, way too subjective. It gives some people excuses to get all sanctimonious, others the chance to talk about “don’t be so judgmental.” So let’s just look at history.
Barack Obama: Not the slightest hint of marital discord, SCOAMF as president.
George W. Bush: By all accounts, a superb husband and father; I think historically he’ll be judged as having been overall a good president. (Your mileage may vary.)
Bill Clinton: Irrepressible horndog, even to the point of playing “hide the stogie” with an intern young enough to be his daughter in the Oval Office. I thought he was a lousy president, but history (and the comparison with Obama) has me softening my stance.
George H. W. Bush: Another president untouched by real sex scandals, he showed great promise, but fell apart at the end.
Ronald Reagan: First divorced man to be president, estranged from his children, one of the best presidents.
Jimmy Carter: Ideal family man, the worst president in my memory — until Obama came along and actually made me wish he was only as bad as Carter.
Gerald Ford: Another fine husband and father, seen as a failure as president, but is being rehabilitated and seen as having helped the nation get over Watergate.
Richard Nixon: No sex scandals, only president to be forced to resign in scandal over corruption.
Lyndon Johnson: Numerous affairs, abysmal president.
John F. Kennedy: Countless affairs, usually seen as a good president, but many see him as too inexperienced and coasting more on charm than ability. (Gee, why does that sound familiar?)
Dwight Eisenhower: Several affairs, including with his wartime driver; seen as a very good president.
Franklin D. Roosevelt: Many affairs, died in one mistress’ bed, did many great and many bad things.
From what I can tell, there really is no correlation between sexual improprieties and performance as president. And I can argue it both ways — those who keep their noses clean have an internal strength of character and integrity that carries through in their administration, while those who can’t keep it zipped tend to let that passion, drive, and self-confidence to succeed in office.
But that really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that sex sells. It’s not hard to find an audience for the prurient, especially when it involves the high and might (or would-be high and mighty) being caught literally with their pants down.