Gary Hart's take on Clinton doesn't wash

March 24, 1998|By Cal Thomas

SURELY the nation's moral water table has reached drought level when Gary Hart feels it's safe to declaim again about whether infidelity should be a factor in determining fitness for public office.

Mr. Hart was a Democratic presidential candidate in 1988 who was forced from the race when reporters discovered him emerging from a house -- where he and a woman not his wife had been alone at suggestive hours and after pictures were published showing Donna Rice sitting on his lap aboard the deliciously named boat Monkey Business. Now Mr. Hart tells George magazine that how a man treats his wife and children is more important than whether he has affairs.

Surely most married women would regard fidelity as good treatment and infidelity as a form of abuse. Infidelity constitutes a breach of trust -- a central character component in any leader. As for raising "successful children," how does Mr. Hart define success? Counselors are overwhelmed with people wrestling with problems brought on by the failure of a parent to honor wedding vows.

Sins of the father

Mr. Hart tells the magazine: "I got linked to people whose behavior was, in my judgment, much worse than mine, people who were involved in sexual harassment, for instance." Does the fact that some people engaged in sexual harassment elevate or absolve Mr. Hart? That "all have sinned and fallen short" does not excuse the sin of one, though he may perceive his less consequential than the sin of another.

Mr. Hart also suggests in the article that if we make marital fidelity a standard for leadership, we will have mediocre leaders. This implies a correlation between promiscuity and leadership skills and mental acuity. If this is so, President Clinton probably scores as the greatest president ever.

Several things ought to disturb us about Mr. Hart's reasoning.

First, he seems to be saying there is no benefit to the man who fulfills his wedding-day promises to his wife and walks with integrity before his children. In Mr. Hart's view, fidelity and promiscuity are morally equivalent. This is much easier for the guilty to rationalize than the innocent. Perhaps the wives of wandering men should be asked whether it's all the same to them if their husbands sleep at home or with someone else. Even the most "tolerant" woman would probably have difficulty living with such an arrangement.

Second, unlike the Promise Keepers movement, whose slogan is "Raise the Standard," Mr. Hart seems content to see the standard continue to fall. We live in a time when some suggest that grading students hurts their developing psyches, and so it is better to have a pass or fail system so no one will feel bad. The idea of competition is being challenged as injurious to the young because some will lose sporting contests and experience diminished self-esteem. Better not to keep score, they reason, and just enjoy the game. Real life is not like that, and learning at an early age to deal with winning and losing, as well as pursuing virtue and integrity, prepares the young for the experiences they will face later on.

Mr. Hart also condemns the press for the way it handled his "affair" and the allegations surrounding Mr. Clinton. While the press may rightfully be accused of sensationalism, inaccuracy and bias in far too many cases, it cannot find what is not there.

Should we demand that only people who have never made personal or professional mistakes hold high office? Of course not. But we should not want leaders who pretend there is no standard.

There is always room for those who err, confess their guilt and vow not to repeat their mistakes. This upholds the standard while keeping the door open for redemption.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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