In the aftermath of Atlanta businesswoman Ginger White’s bombshell revelation Monday that she allegedly carried on a 13-year “off-and-on” affair with GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain, Cain is now “reassessing” his campaign strategy. Even though White is the fourth woman to accuse Cain of sexual impropriety, some pundits still believe Cain has staying power — or at least nothing to lose by staying in the race. Others pundits, however, believe he should concede defeat.
Although the Republican Party has unofficially branded itself as the party of family values, I’m wondering if this party and all political parties should reassess how we choose our candidates. Should we leave the personal affairs of candidates, married or not, out of politics? After all, the candidates are not running to be pastors or deacons or even husbands or wives of the year, they are running to be president.
“Newt Gingrich is by no means the perfect candidate. But Republican primary voters too often make the mistake of preferring an unattainable ideal to the best candidate who is actually running. In this incredibly important election, that candidate is Newt Gingrich. He has the experience, the leadership qualities and the vision to lead this country in these trying times. He is worthy of your support on January 10,” wrote Joseph W. McQuaid, New Hampshire Union Leader publisher, in his editorial on Sunday.
Even ultraconservative 700 Club host and former presidential hopeful Pat Robertson, who is famous for having extreme views, is taking a more pragmatic approach to campaigning. “Those people in the Republican primary have got to lay off of this stuff. They’re forcing their leaders, the front-runners, into positions that will mean they lose the general election,” Robertson said. “You appeal to the narrow base and they applaud the daylights out of what you’re saying, and then you hit the general election and they’ll say no way.”
CNN contributor Anne-Marie Slaughter considered this issue in her blog post “Why Anthony Weiner Should Not Resign” when former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner was lambasted after his sexting scandal earlier this year. (Weiner, however, ultimately did resign.) Slaughter points to former President Bill Clinton as an example of a political leader whose failures in his personal life did not negate his effective governing. She writes:
I for one am deeply glad that Bill Clinton did not resign; he was one of the best presidents of my lifetime and left the country in far better shape than he found it. His wife and daughter chose to forgive him and to preserve their family, which is their business, not ours. He also breached the public trust by lying, but in my view not to an extent that it affected his ability to govern successfully.
And there is even precedent for this stance in the Bible. In spite of King David’s flagrant cheating with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, he was not removed from the throne. Read 2 Samuel 11 and 12 if you don’t believe me.
But, of course, Cain hasn’t been elected to anything yet, and our perception of a candidate’s integrity and commitment to family are two important ways for us to gauge how much we like him. If he lies and cheats on his wife, will he lie and cheat the American people? This is a fair question.
If Ginger White’s story is to be believed, Cain ended his alleged affair with her prior to jumping into the presidential race. So, again assuming White’s story is true, at least Cain doesn’t have the hubris to believe he can juggle an adulterous relationship while persuading the American people that he’s the man to lead the nation. His 9-9-9 plan? Well, that’s another story.
Although as Christians we do not condone this kind of behavior, many powerful men down through the ages have struggled in their personal lives. And in today’s political scene, sex scandals seem to be a common denominator. If we subtract every candidate that has failed personally from the race, we may be left with very little to work with.
In fact, when you consider all the male politicians who we eventually discovered were unfaithful to their wives (think: John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Ensign, Mark Sanford, Rudy Giuliani, Gary Hart, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and the list goes on), one might begin to wonder if having the gumption to run for office predisposes one to philandering.
Abraham Lincoln, another male politician, once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Among other things, power provides a person with greater opportunities — opportunities to do good or to act selfishly. Whenever we pull the lever or mark the oval for our candidate on Election Day, we’re putting faith in that person to choose the former.
May God help us to do the same.