Confronted on television with his alleged history of adultery, the candidate denied the affair, but acknowledged “causing pain in my marriage.”
With no more than that, we Americans decided the matter was one between the candidate and his wife — and we elected Bill Clinton the 42nd president of the United States.
That was 1992. Here we go again.
Two decades later, it seems that our obsession over the private lives of our public officials has been renewed.
I had thought that, post-Clinton, we had learned our lesson, but former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s admission that he fathered a child as the product of an affair with a woman who was not his wife has become a singular focus.
The Schwarzenegger news is tragic, certainly for the heartbreak its apparently causing his now-estranged wife and their children.
And Schwarzenegger’s years as a Hollywood movie star before entering the governor’s mansion almost certainly meant that this new marital scandal would become gossip fodder.
Let’s be clear, however. That’s all this news is: tabloid trash.
The birth of Schwarzenegger’s “love child” took place years before he became California’s 38th governor, the separation of he and his wife as a result of the affair occurred after his term had ended, and no one has suggested that the old affair or the child affected Schwarzenegger’s performance as chief executive.
Further, long before this news broke, Schwarzenegger had declared that with the end of his governorship, he would seek no other elected office.
All of this means that the news of his infidelity should never have taken on a political dimension, if even it should really have been made public at all.
The fact that it’s done so sends precisely the wrong message.
Public officials ought to be allowed to have a private life, provided that the conduct of that private life doesn’t inhibit an official’s public job.
The president of the United States and his family lives in a publicly owned home, yet we have no expectation — nor should we — that we would be privy to the intricacies of Barack and Michelle Obama’s marriage, or details involving their daughters.
And yet two political spouses apparently are nervous about their husbands running for president next year, their anxiety driven by the details of their respective marriages.
Which is why political reporting of the Schwarzenegger story sends exactly the wrong message.
Daniels reportedly left her husband, GOP Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in the 1990s with the couple’s children. She married another man, only to divorce him and eventually reunite with Daniels.
Gingrich began dating her husband, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, when he was still married to his previous wife.
Neither woman should have to worry.
Let me be clear: I am no fan of either Mitch Daniels or Newt Gingrich. I would never vote for either one, but their marriages aren’t the reason why.
Believe me, both men offer plenty of legitimate reasons to defeat either one in 2012.
Before becoming chief executive of the Hoosier State, Daniels served as George W. Bush’s budget director. That means Daniels was a key architect of squandering the first federal surplus in 30 years and driving the country back into the deficit ditch.
Why on Earth would you vote for him?
And then, Gingrich…well, he’s Newt Gingrich.
He’s a walking political disaster who appearently doesn’t know what he believes in.
These are the sorts of issues which should decide who gets elected president. Questions of who was married to whom, and were they faithful, should not. Those are the business of husband, wife, and no one else.
We came to understand that in 1992. Have we forgotten?