‘A prominent Washington journalist once told me that [ex-Sen. Gary] Hart, after a couple of drinks on an airplane … described his own fall in 1987 as a conspiracy of power elites,” David Remnick wrote in a profile of the one-time presidential candidate, “the military establishment, the energy industry … all the institutions he planned to reform.”
Hart’s mindset lives on in Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was expected to be next mayor of New York until his recent unpleasantness. Both failed to see that raunchy behavior by big politicos does not fit the term “expectation of privacy.” Both lied to their friends, fought their party’s efforts to limit the damage and blamed everyone but themselves.
Not every infraction of private morality calls for drumming the sinner out of public life. Among the drafters of the Constitution was the notorious rake, Gouverneur Morris. Alexander Hamilton confessed to adultery. At the height of the Victorian era, unwed father Grover Cleveland was elected president twice.
The two candidates in the l940 presidential election had private arrangements one could call unconventional. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was estranged from wife Eleanor and in touch with his long-time love, Lucy Mercer. Wendell Willkie had an affair with Irita van Doren, who wrote most of his speeches and from whose apartment some of those speeches were made.
More recently, Martin Luther King Jr. and John Kennedy were known as compulsive philanderers, despite warnings they courted exposure or blackmail, risked losing support, losing their own reputations and damaging the things for which they had worked all their lives.
What struck those close to them was the disconnect between this self-indulgence and their disciplined conduct in all other areas. As a friend of Kennedy told his biographers, he was “like Jekyll and Hyde.”
But the Harts and the Weiners lack self-control in both private and in public life, as did ousted IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn and former presidential candidate John Edwards.
Strauss-Kahn and Edwards face criminal charges that could lead to years of imprisonment. Hart and Weiner merely faced charges of weirdness and arrogance. And they also lost their promising political careers.
Examiner columnist Noemie Emery is a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard and author of “Great Expectations; The Troubled Lives of Political Families.”