Thomas Jefferson may have impregnated one of his slaves. Warren Harding had liaisons with his mistress in an Oval Office closet. FDR’s mistress—one of two during his marriage—was with him when he died. The sexually insatiable JFK sneaked hookers into the White House pool. Lady Bird caught LBJ on top of a secretary on an Oval Office couch. We know all this now, but at the time of these escapades, the public was in the dark. Respectable newspapers considered that kind of snooping out of bounds. So, in retrospect, we must now ask: Were all these presidents unfit to serve? Or do we have it wrong now, when every few months, a governor, congressman, senator, or presidential candidate slinks off in disgrace, after begging to be forgiven for extramarital hanky-panky? (See Talking points.)
The question, it would appear, is now moot. The new, zero-tolerance rules of sexual “gotcha” were established during Bill Clinton’s presidency, when Ken Starr interrogated that Arkansas hound dog about his dalliance with an intern, and Congress impeached him for lying about it. Since then, any extramarital sexual activity has been fair game, and you could fill the National Mall with the legion of exposed “hypocrites”: closeted conservatives, “family values” stalwarts with secret second families, and populist crusaders like John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer, who thought their righteousness surely excused a little nooky on the side. If mainstream newspapers still sometimes shrink from exposing these private sins, no matter: Bloggers will now make sure they reach a national audience. So let the word go forth from this time and place: If you want to serve the American public, buddy, you’d better keep it in your pants.
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