One of our nation’s very best historians and syndicated newspaper columnists is Victor Davis Hanson of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

So it is with no little trepidation that I feel obligated to take issue with his Jan. 26 National Review column headlined: “Fidelity and the Presidency: History shows that adultery isn’t necessarily an indicator of governing ability.”

Hanson writes:

“There have been plenty of unfaithful presidents.”

But in his column, he identifies only four presidential adulterers: Warren Harding, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and William Clinton.

That amounts to four out of 44.

How in the name of common sense can four out of 44 be described as “plenty”?

Hanson opens this column by noting:

  • “The news media seem obsessed with the serial affairs of a younger Newt Gingrich back in the last century.” (That is only 12 years ago. Is this a contention that Gingrich’s adulterous sex drive somehow concluded with the end of that century?)
  • “The anger of his second of three wives mysteriously became national news on ABC’s ‘Nightline’ on the eve of the South Carolina primary.” (Why would the anger of his second wife becoming national news be “mysterious”?)
  • “Do these marital dramas involving our leaders matter that much?” (Does the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” “matter that much”? Does the Book of Common Prayer marriage oath: “And forsaking all others, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live,” “matter that much”? Why should any man’s oath to remain faithful to his wife be regarded as less of an obligation as his inaugural oath as president?)
  • “At some point, does long-ago adultery earn a statute of limitations?” (And what on earth is the limitation in an oath to “keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live”?)
  • “Given the value of stable marriages to society, it would be nice to think that such moral failure in our presidential candidates would be a telltale warning of later flawed governance – and that anyone who cheated on a spouse would also somehow cheat the country. But the truth unfortunately is more complex. The extracurricular Clinton proved a better president than the faithful Jimmy Carter. The reckless Kennedy served more honestly than did the seemingly devoted Richard Nixon. And the two-timing FDR was considered more successful than the monogamous Herbert Hoover.” (But all three of these adulterous presidents declined ever to announce publicly the adulteries, which, instead, they tried to conceal.)

On the following, I agree with columnist Hanson:

“The media usually prefer liberal politicians. Washington’s newspaper editors kept quiet about JFK’s frolicking, a silence that became near-conspiratorial. The renegade tabloid National Enquirer alone had to pursue the sordid affair of presidential candidate John Edwards. Matt Drudge forced the mainstream media to follow up on the recurrent but ignored rumors of Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. The feeling of most in the media is: Why sidetrack a fellow progressive’s enlightened agenda for America over an occasional hormonal urge?”

“We are now an electronically wired 24/7 nation of the Internet, cable news, Twitter, and Facebook, and sex is in our faces everywhere. In 1961, the old-boy newspaper guild could keep quiet JFK’s alleged rampant womanizing. Now, such a circle of silence eventually breaks down, and the lurid details seem all the more newsworthy. In a counterintuitive sense, the more dissolute Americans become, the more they hope that at least their presidents might resist the temptations of the modern world that they themselves cannot.”

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