Politics

Who’s Your Favorite? We Should Not Choose by Voting Record Alone

After voting for Republican presidential candidates eight times in a row, this is the year I’ve been listening to Democrats. Sadly, though, every Democratic candidate supports the killing of unborn children and the massive killing of Iraqis that would take place if the U.S. gives up now. So it looks as if I reluctantly will deliver a ninth straight GOP ballot.

I’m not supporting any particular candidate and won’t decide which to support merely by examining voting records. Such evidence is important, but an American history book I wrote nine years ago, in the heat of the Clinton controversy, argued (among other things) that voters should take stock of the religious beliefs of leaders and also their personal conduct.

One controversial conclusion of "The American Leadership Tradition" was that leaders who are unfaithful to their spouses are likely to be unfaithful to the country. That rule of thumb has many exceptions, but I still would call unrepentant serial adultery a leading indicator of potential trouble.

A reviewer from The New York Times castigated me for that contention, but in subsequent years, I’ve received supportive notes from professional opposition researchers — those who ferret out weaknesses of opposing candidates

Last year, for example, one researcher wrote me, "I personally know about a dozen cases of candidates in which adultery was either widely rumored or established by domestic incident reports or divorce court case files. Contrary to common belief, such material is not politically useful in itself — but it is a reliable indicator that other moral, legal, professional, or character faults are likely to be found."

This researcher gave examples. In a mayoral race, rumors of sexual misconduct hung around one candidate, but nothing could be proved. Suspicion, though, led to a close examination of financial indiscretions that ending up sinking the candidate. It turned out he played fast and loose with not only women, but cash. He was willing to deviate from "conventional" norms and then lie to protect himself.

Spy novelists and biographers often write that adulterous situations are opportunities to recruit spies and traitors. Similarly, special interests looking for an advantage seek out character flaws as a way to develop relationships that then can be mined for favors at the right time. Those who justify their abuse of trust in one key area are likely to do it in another.

And so we turn to 2008. Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani showed bold mayoral leadership after Sept. 11 but erratic personal behavior before it. He astoundingly marched with Judith Nathan, then his mistress, in New York’s Saint Patrick’s Day Parade, a gambit one columnist equated with "groping in the window at Macy’s." He shocked his second wife and others by announcing at a news conference his decision to get a divorce.

None of that should necessarily rule him out, but it does cause concern about character. Giuliani’s refusal to tickle the ears of interest groups is refreshing but also worrisome: It’s fine to depart from traditional political inanities, but does that also suggest a Nietzschean willingness to depart from traditional ethical concerns?

What of the others? The candidate with the best marital record, Mitt Romney, seems slick; I haven’t warmed to him yet, nor have most voters. Fred Thompson seems sleepy. Mike Huckabee’s personality impressed me when I interviewed him in January, and my profile of him ended with unconventional optimism about his chances. I won’t be surprised if he upsets Romney in Iowa and eventually drives him from the race.

What then? Don’t count out as a compromise choice John McCain, who steadfastly supported the U.S. effort in Iraq at a time others considered it a lost cause. Long ago, he acknowledged his own responsibility for adultery, so this ancient history is no longer a concern. And the Grand Old Party does have a history of turning to its Grand Old Men.

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