So we are blessed with a constant spectacle of crime-fighting pols caught with expensive hookers, intercontinental hikes along the Appalachian Trail, footsie in the airport men’s room and stained blue dresses. One newly-appointed governor even got the jump on us by pre-announcing his (and his wife’s) past infidelities, before anybody had thought to inquire on the subject.
More typically, though, indignant denials beget humble confessions, complete (until recently, at least) with wrong-ed spouse – followed, after a decent interval, by redemption on cable news programs. Which is what makes this week’s plot twist interesting: the unconventional campaign of unconventional candidate Herman Cain has unconventionally followed last week’s indignant denials with a new twist -- the Consenting Adults defense. Through an aide, he has floated the intriguing notion that it’s simply none of our collective business.
Whatever else that line of attack represents (a tacit admission, for instance), it does beg the question: apart from its salacious entertainment value, are there legitimate, public policy bases to care about this candidate’s nocturnal meanderings?
It seems to me that there are at least three reasons why this might be the public’s business – perhaps readers can supply more.
First, for the long-married Mr. Cain, there is the question of character and commitments. Past is prologue, and an individual (okay, a man, as this seems to be a chiefly male-dominated sport) who ignores the most fundamental vow of his adulthood is not likely to be steadfast in his political promises. In the extended seduction of campaign season, voters want to surrender themselves to someone who will stick around past breakfast.
Second, and somewhat contextually, is the issue of hypocrisy. A candidate who touts his family values and the tenure of his marriage, prominently sings in the choir and espouses taking personal responsibility for one’s outcomes ought not to be exposed, in flagrante delicto, in a decade-long affair with another woman. As indicated, this factor will somewhat depend on the political positions previously assumed, but nobody runs on the Adulterers’ ticket.
Finally, bad behaviors can leave a person vulnerable to blackmail. The Nevada Senator in the Godfather movies was a willing stooge after he’d been drugged and photographed with a murdered prostitute. Although many of the platform planks of Mr. Cain’s Grand Old Party might better be explained by extortion than sound public spirit, I would prefer my President to be unsusceptible to such pressure.
So I am guessing that the Consenting Adults defense will have a short and undistinguished career. Like the ridiculous campaign video image of his campaign manager puffing away on a cigarette, it is an ill-considered move. We may have seen the last of it, with good reason and riddance. Some conventions are worth keeping.
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