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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?