Politics is rife with them.
The known show marriages in American politics include such as John F. Kennedy’s marriage to Jacqueline Bouvier. JFK was a notorious womanizer, a characteristic the press of his day was anxious not to report. Had it been as widely known then as it is now, questions would have abounded about why Jackie stayed with him. In many women’s eyes, the status that accrued to her as First Lady doesn’t nearly compensate for his serial betrayals of her with women high and low.
Before JFK there was the show marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. FDR was yet another Democratic adulterer. His extramarital dalliances with Lucy Mercer are well documented; his later affairs with Marguerite “Missy” LeHand are less well known but nearly as certain, owing to her extensive visits to him when Eleanor was absent. Eleanor, be it noted, did answer FDR’s straying with dalliances of her own, first with Earl Miller and later with Lorena Hickok.
Adultery was also among Warren Harding’s failings. Indeed, one of his mistresses, Nan Britton, actually lived in the White House during his time there, though he took some trouble to conceal it. Even so, Harding’s “real” wife Florence “Duchess” Kling must have been more gullible than average.
The match between William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham gives every indication of being strictly for show. Clinton’s numerous adulteries and advances toward other women, both before and during his presidency, are well known. Almost as well known is Hillary’s spate of lesbian engagements during her young adulthood. Those aware of that period in her life have speculated freely about a more intimate than business relationship between her and long time aide and companion Huma Abedin.
With the long awaited separation of Abedin from Anthony Weiner, the speculation is bound to explode. Surely the Weiners’ marriage – a New York Jew to a Pakistani Muslim – was among the most useful of matches to the Democrat Party. Yet appearances have been against them since long before Weiner’s “sexting” behavior was revealed to the world. The dissolution of their marriage will soon be an accomplished fact, at which point the political press will be divided into two camps: those anxious to avert their eyes, lest the story weaken Hillary’s chances for the presidency, and those who find the scandal and its implications too juicy to resist.
The question on the minds of many about a show marriage demonstrated to be such is, of course, “Why does she tolerate it?”
The possible answers are many. However, in recent years the most plausible of the lot has been that she wants the power, privilege, and status that the marriage brings her too much to allow herself to fret over its vacuity. When we contemplate the Clintons’ marriage, for example, we see two persons both avid for power and status. Whether or not she regarded their alliance as a practical one at first, after Bill’s inability to restrain himself sexually became well known, Hillary surely had to evaluate her chances of achieving as high and powerful a station on her own as she might as his wife. Rumors about what went on between them after the infamous “bimbo eruptions” of the 1992 presidential campaign don’t involve a solemn vow that he would “keep it in his pants,” but rather bargaining over which of them was to control what aspects of federal policy.
It is unlikely that similar bargaining occurred between the Weiners. Legislators don’t have the same kind of power. Yet Huma, who had already taken a grave risk by marrying a Jew, must have contemplated the practical effects of divorcing Anthony when the scandal broke. They were already apart far more than they were together, owing to her tight binding to Hillary. However, the Clintons had already modeled that pattern and had received a kind of indirect approbation for it, so perhaps it seemed to her that it would be best just to go on as they had.
The consequences of the Weiners’ upcoming divorce will be wide – perhaps wider than anyone can foresee.
“Politics make strange bedfellows,” it is said. Indeed, there aren’t many successful marriages in which the spouses hold to diametrically opposed politics. However, there are probably many more marriages of convenience, especially when he’s the one in high office, than most Americans suppose. Ascent to a federal office puts special strains on the occupant, including a significant increase in the sexual temptations that will be offered him. Power is among the more potent aphrodisiacs.
Despite all that, Americans prefer married office-seekers to single ones. It seems that something about the institution of marriage reassures us about a politician. He committed to a binding relationship; therefore he’ll commit to the duties and responsibilities of high office. Unfortunately, the connective tissue – that the marital commitment was sincere rather than made for appearances or potential gain – is missing from that kinda-sorta syllogism.
In our day, single persons have a steep hill to climb toward political power. Given the almost complete loosening of mores concerning sexual fidelity, perhaps it seems to many aspirants – beforehand, at least – that a show marriage will be “worth it” as an investment and won’t be “too much trouble” to maintain afterward. Yet paradoxically and somewhat ironically, we hold our officeholders to higher standards of fidelity than most of us hold ourselves. “He proved he can’t be trusted,” we say to one another. That should cause us to reflect, somewhat more often and more seriously than we do, on what the prevalence of adultery among us says about how ready we should be to trust one another in this year of Our Lord 2016.