But why do politicians cheat so much in the first place? And why do we care?
While it is estimated that 30-60% of all married Americans will cheat during their lifetime, certain personality traits may put some people at a greater risk of infidelity than others. We tend to elect officials who are charismatic, well-spoken, confidant, and attractive – traits that make for great leaders, but are often synonymous with cheaters.
There is no proof whatsoever that cheating can effect job performance, in fact quite the opposite, as the personality traits that make an individual more likely to cheat also include a high work ethic. However, it’s not a far leap to correlate the vows taken in marriage with those of holding office. If a politician cheats on their spouse, does that mean they will cheat on us, the American people?
While our founding fathers were often able to keep affairs secret, with news of infidelities such as the Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemming scandal not coming out until 2000, that fact changed after World War II. News began to be distributed on a more national level, magazines featuring movie stars and gossip were on stands for the first time, and sex, above all else, sold. The nation seemed perfectly poised to bring down the hammer on unfaithful politicians, but then the Kinsey reports were made public, proving that Americans were involved in a wider variety of sexual practices than had previously been thought. Slowly, the era of free love was beginning.
During the 1960’s high-profile affairs such as JFK’s fling with Marilyn Monroe caught the public’s eye and inspired their curiosity, but did not draw forth criticisms. It wasn’t until Watergate, a moment that shook American’s trust in their elected to the core, that punishment was sought for cheaters. For those who followed – Gary Hart, Bill Clinton, Larry Craig – justice would be swift, and often harsh.
Today, living in the public eye, under the glare of modern technology, politicians can hardly blink without Twitter lighting up, much less cheat on their spouse. Anthony Weiner didn’t even physically cheat in 2013, but that didn’t stop the press from making national news of his sexting scandal, ultimately leading to his resignation from Congress. Will politicians stop cheating if they know they can’t get away with it? Or will Americans become so used to it that we stop caring altogether?
Exploring the history of politicians and infidelity can help us better understand those we elect to power, their strengths, their weaknesses, and their humanity. It can remind us that they are people too, with lives outside of politics. Ultimately, the American people have a moral decision to make – do we let politician’s personal lives be personal, or crucify every last one who cheats on their spouse?