The John Edwards sex scandal is presently percolating through the news media. I don't know if the allegations are true or not and it's certainly too early to make any conclusions, nor do I particularly care, as Edwards' political career appears to be over.
Mickey Kaus has a post up arguing why the scandal is and should be important to Democrats who think that it is irrelevant.
Is it? Does it matter if a politician has an affair?
I remember the Monica Lewinsky scandal a decade ago. I did not care for Bill Clinton, but was wholly unimpressed that hypocritical Republican politicians had discovered -- to the utter shock of their virgin ears -- that a fellow hypocritical politician had lied about sex. And that this discovery was made after a team of federal prosecutors had spent years tasked solely with digging up dirt -- any dirt --on Clinton struck me as an abuse of prosecutorial power that should not be rewarded.
And that is, in a nutshell, why I thought that the public opinion backlash against the GOP was well-deserved. It wasn't that Bill Clinton didn't behave disgracefully; it was that the Republicans shouldn't be rewarded for engaging in even worse behavior.
But when we evaluate candidates for public office, we often confront stories of moral misbehavior. Should past (or even present) moral failings factor into our decisions about who to vote for?
This morning, my wife asserted that adulterous allegations, such as those made against Edwards do matter because if a person cannot be trusted to keep his/her marital vows, s/he can't be trusted to be honest about anything else. There's no true distinction between personal and public morality. Good point.
But would we have wanted Lincoln to remove General Grant from his position because he was a drunk, instead of offering to send him a barrel of whiskey? Would we have wanted Thomas Jefferson to be absent from the public life of the early Republic because he slept with his slaves? Would we have wanted an adulterous Franklin Roosevelt to be forced out of office mid-war and replaced with the faithful but idiotic Henry Wallace?
What do you think? How important to you is the morality of a candidate for public office?