"But Honey, The President Did It!"

Is Bill Clinton Really “Just the Average Husband”?
1998-02-12

I saw a very alarming little news item the other day. Apparently, according to a recent Time/CNN poll, 54% of Americans believe that Bill Clinton’s moral standards are “no worse than the average married man.” Even more astonishing, 3% reported that they believe Clinton’s standards to be higher than the average husband. (I’m afraid to ask what these men have been up to.)

Who are these people? Who is this “average married man”? And what exactly has happened to the sacrament of matrimony in this society?

First of all, I don’t believe that the type of behavior (or rather “alleged behavior”) we’ve seen demonstrated in the Oval Office is typical of the average American husband. I have known a whole lot of husbands in my time, and very few -- probably a small fraction of a single percent -- have been unfaithful to their wives. And not one, to my knowledge, has ever been the target of even one sexual harassment investigation. Meanwhile, our Chief Executive has admitted to the former, and has been deluged with the latter. (Of course, none of my friends have ever been the target of a “vast, right-wing conspiracy”, but then again neither has anyone else. It couldn’t happen. As anyone remotely familiar with the goings-on of Republican politics knows, the very term “vast, right-wing conspiracy” is an oxymoron.)

“Average” men have, in my opinion, been getting a bad rap in this society for far too long. Despite consistent portrayals to the contrary, I refuse to believe that married men are an enormous band of self-centered egotistical jerks who can’t control their appetites -- sexual and otherwise. I’ve seen far too much evidence to the contrary. I do believe it is true that men, due to both biological and social factors, face more temptation to stray from their marriage vows than women do. But I remain convinced that most married men are moral, sensible individuals committed to the well-being of their wives and families, and that they remain faithful to their wives.

However, I do worry that the current political climate Vis a Vis adultery could have a very negative effect on the average American husband. Like it or not, our leaders set policy -- often in ways they don’t intend. This nation looks to its elected officials for much more than just legislative approval and a sound foreign policy. The White House, in particular, sets a tone for the entire country. Just look at history. Entire eras are associated with their presidents. The fifties were known as the “Eisenhower Era,” reflecting his optimism and Mamie’s taste for things simple and colorful. The glamorous Kennedys impacted nearly every area of American life. The entire men’s hat industry virtually collapsed (he didn’t wear hats) while the women’s side of that same industry thrived (she did). Fashion changed, entertainment changed, and their tumultuous personal lives echoed the turmoil awaiting America in the ‘60’s.

What the President of the United States says (and does) is emulated throughout the country. But what messages are we hearing from this White House -- and from so many others in elective office? We hear that there is a strict separation between “private” morality and “public” morality; that the way a man conducts his married life cannot reflect or impact his presence in the “real world”; that it doesn’t matter what a man does in his own home, just so long as he delivers in the workplace.

And what about these wives who stand next to their adulterous husbands, looking on adoringly as their men spew this babble about “private morality”? They are doing no favor to American women. They are selling out. Their continued presence and support do nothing but legitimize their husbands’ behavior.

What kind of message are we giving to American men? “He did it and he’s still well-regarded.” “His family is still intact.” “She seems to be fine.” What does all of this do to their motivation to resist temptation next time it comes around? What are we telling our children? They look up to their leaders. The President of the United States -- no matter who he is -- always scores in the top ten in polls of children about their heroes. Do we want to tell our young boys that this sort of behavior is to be emulated, as long as they do a good job at work? Do we want to tell our girls that part of being a good wife involves standing lovingly by their husbands while they admit and rationalize infidelity?

Yes, our leaders need to be held to a higher standard. They influence the behavior of a nation -- the strongest nation on earth. We cannot remain strong if our citizenry is emulating weak, self-serving leaders with questionable “private morality.”

I recently attended a talk given by former Education Secretary and Drug Czar William Bennett. He said in that talk that his wife, Elaine, has an idea for a new bumper sticker. It would simply say:

“Adultery Destroys the Village.”

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