It was only a matter of time before Democratic politicians (as opposed to just late night talk show hosts) began commenting on the fact that the leading Republican candidates have an awful lot of ex-wives floating around. Although he's carefully vague, one has to assume that, when Howard Dean said of Rudy Giuliani that "His personal life is a serious problem for him," he was talking about Giuliani's two ex-wives (not to mention his sordid divorce so that he could marry his current wife), his third wife's ex-husbands, and his son's disdain for the whole marriage-go-round.
Many of the other Republican candidates don't look so good either when it comes to managing their private lives. John McCain is on wife number two and may have started his relationship with her while still married to wife number one (although since his first wife and children have forgiven him, surely we should too). Fred Thompson is likewise on wife number two, and many people will either be envious of or put off by the fact that his second wife is significantly younger than he is. Newt Gingrich also boasts a spotty marital history, marred by the popular (but untrue) belief that he served divorce papers on his first wife while she was hospitalized for cancer treatments. And as with Thompson, Gingrich's current wife (his third) is a much younger woman. Of the leading names on the Republican side, only Mitt Romney has a clean marital record, having been married to the same woman for 38 years (a commitment that may well have been helped by the fact that, just as he is an extremely handsome man, so too is his wife a very beautiful woman). In striking contrast to the Republicans, the Democratic frontrunners can boast that they have many fewer marriages between them. Hillary Clinton's marriage, despite its manifest peculiarities, has lasted 32 years. One can wonder what kept her with a compulsive womanizer for so long, but the fact is that she took her marriage vows seriously, and she and Bill are still together. Barack Obama also has a good track record (aided perhaps by the fact that he's younger than the other candidates, so hasn't had as much time to get into trouble). He and his wife have been together 15 years. John Edwards, he of the beautiful hair, has been married to Elizabeth for 30 years. Al Gore and Tipper have been married 37 years.
Usually, when faced with these numbers (both years of marriage and number of spouses), the discussion wanders off into rants about hypocrisy. As in "It's hypocritical for conservatives to divorce." Or, "It's hypocritical for a feminist such as Hillary to put up with a rampant womanizer." As for the first argument, I don't know that any of these much-married conservative candidates have ever advocated the end of divorce, and I'm sure all would agree, with themselves as terrible examples, that stable family relationships are good things. As for the second argument, Hillary's private decisions about love, family and (one assumes) political expediency are hers alone, and should not be used against her in a hypocrisy argument. As the Victorians used to say, "Who knows the mysteries of the human heart?"
I actually would approach this whole marriage thing another way, and (unsurprisingly to those who know my biases) it's a way that favors the Democrats as spouses, and the Republicans as leaders. I have no doubt but that the Democrats - by which I really mean the male Democratic candidates - are much nicer husbands than the caddish Republicans. I'm sure that, in dealing with their beloved wives, they're sensitive and thoughtful. They like to talk about their feelings and, in turn, they're willing to listen when their wives talk about their own feelings. When there's a big decision to be made in the family, these men make sure that their wives are full partners in the decision-making. They're probably just dreamy husbands.
The question, though, is whether those dreamy spousal qualities are what we want in a President. That is, do we really want a President who will sit for hours listening to people in the Oval Office, whether employees, Congress people, or foreign leaders, sharing their feelings, while periodically chiming in with his own recitation of emotional moments? Do we want someone who would never be rude enough to end a discussion and simply make a judgment call? Is it appropriate for the leader of the most powerful nation in the world always to take feelings into account when he makes a decision?
I get uncomfortable when I think of our Commander-in-Chief sensitively opining that "I'm worried that it will hurt Kim Jong-Il feelings if we increase sanctions against him for going ahead with his weapon's program." Equally awful would be our emotionally open leader reminding his Cabinet team that "You have to understand that Ahmadinejad is throwing out these nuclear threats against Israel because he feels humiliated by their technological sophistication, despite their nation's small size. And he's short. We should cut him a lot of slack because it's understandable that his psyche responds negatively to these wounds."
You can see why, when I think of an ideal personality for an American president, I don't think of a New Age sensitive man. Instead, I think of someone who has strong political principles; who is willing to make tough calls ("the buck stops here"); and who does what he thinks is right, not what will make people like him.
These same leadership qualities, of course, tend to make for lousy modern-day husbands. They might have worked in a pre-modern era, when the husband was the head of his home, just as the President is the executive in charge of his country, but they work very badly in today's world, where husbands and wives are expected to be partners.
No modern woman worth her salt is going to be happy in a relationship with someone who is pretty darn sure he knows what's right; who is more interested in the big picture (his ideas about family economics, personal job security, etc.) than in what makes her happy; and who doesn't care if his decisions ultimately rub her, and everyone in the neighborhood or family, the wrong way, as long as he thinks they're the right decisions. In other words, partnership and leadership are not the same things, and they call for very different qualities. Someone who succeeds in the first arena may be precisely what we don't need in the second one.
So feel free to consider the candidates' personal lives when you're contemplating casting your vote for one or another, whether in the primaries or in the Presidential election itself. Just remember that, merely because one candidate is a devoted husband may not make him a powerful leader (and Americans wisely like strong leaders during times of crisis), while the fact that another candidate is a difficult spouse, although not indicative of his ability to partner sensitively (which is a luxury for peace time), may nevertheless prove the more important fact that he can lead well during a crisis.
Bookworm is a crypto-conservative living in deep blue America. She is the proprietor of Bookworm Room.