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?

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  1. Naim says:

    This is a little saddening. The vast majority of problems in our country can be prevented through strong families. If our elected leaders can’t get it right, how can they inspire the citizens to do so?

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  2. m says:

    Here is an interesting paper on Job Turnover, Wage Rates, and Marital Stability, http://www.urban.org/publications/411148.html.
    Can anyone point to a study that talks about effect of marriage on leadership skills.

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  3. Nathan Marik says:

    I think marriage becomes a handicap when you take into account that the spouse has to perfect now as well as the candidate, so it’s twice as hard to keep your collective noses clean.

    Additionally, I think marriage has always been a bigger issue with the religious right than it has other voters, and their role is much more downplayed in the upcoming elections than it has been in the past two.

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  4. Dave says:

    Interesting that there is a common locale to almost all of the cases pointed out, but of course it is not a local phenomena of the North East or Mid-Atlantic. Perhaps there is a contributory relationship to the culture of the region in producing the type of im/moral leaders, or reverse causality in that moral corruption in civil leaders undermines morals of the culture. Is the cliché “power corrupts” or “corrupt culture corrupts power”? Maybe both come hand in hand.

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  5. G-AZ says:

    Could a psychologist please explain to me why Mr. & Mrs. Middle America factor in a candidate’s marital success believing that 1) their two marriages have anything in common and 2) the candidate’s marriage indicates that the candidate is a moral person who has concern for moral people like Mr. & Mrs. Middle America, BUT do not factor in 1) that the candidate is extremely wealthy, unlike Mr. and Mrs. Middle America and 2) how could a wealthy person have concern for Mr. and Mrs. Middle America?

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  6. PC says:

    If we want to discuss regional, er, drift among politicians, we should bring the mayor of Detroit into the mix. His own sexual peccadilloes are causing that town substantial heartache. It’s not limited to any one part of the country that I can see, but for the NY Times to look mostly at the East Coast isn’t too surprising.
    In addition, we should not forget the impact of instant communications in our era. When married politicians in the past committed adultery, which happened with monogamous (er, I mean monotonous) regularity, it didn’t become news instantaneously. And it wasn’t blogged about ad nauseam. Those things were not possible, even as recently as the Kennedy brothers, who were not paragons of virtue when it came to marriage.
    The fact is, adultery in politics isn’t more common. It’s just discussed a lot more. It’s not the marriages that are problematic, it’s the coverage the straying partners get in the media, and the viral spread of every story about yet another indiscretion.

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  7. Chuck says:

    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.

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  8. Anon says:

    “Is the bar simply set too high?” So, you’re implying cheating and meeting with prostitutes should be expected in any relationship…???

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