How do voters view affairs?

December 9, 2011


We live in a bipolar culture. We allow ourselves to be drenched in sexual images in movies, on television and on the Internet and then defend First Amendment protection to even the most graphic of them. Then, when a politician acts out what culture promotes, we criticize him, especially if he’s conservative, branding him with the equivalent of a “scarlet letter.”

In our not too distant past, a feeling of shame made people go into hiding after an adulterous relationship was exposed. Now they go on television to talk about the sleazy details. They either deny it (Herman Cain), admit it and say they’ve asked God for forgiveness (Newt Gingrich), or pay no political price at all (space limitations prevent me from listing the legion of politicians that fall into this last category.)

Ginger White was on TV last week. She’s the Georgia woman who claims to have had a 13-year affair with Herman Cain. White says the alleged affair wasn’t “sex for cash.” Whew, let’s be grateful for some sense of morality, however thin.

In a nation that channels Ado Annie’s lament from the musical “Oklahoma” (“I’m just a girl who cain’t say no”), saying no to anything, including adultery, gets you pegged as a fundamentalist who is attempting to impose his morality on others. How’s our failure to impose anything working out for us?

If we maintain that adultery is wrong, shouldn’t we have an authority for that judgment? Who decides such things? So the wife (or husband) and kids get upset. Isn’t it all about one’s personal choice and happiness?

For politicians, it goes deeper. Here is the question I wanted to ask former Sen. Gary Hart after his alleged affair with Donna Rice nearly 25 years ago: “If we can’t trust you to keep a promise freely made to your wife before God and witnesses, what standard should we use to judge your truthfulness when you make promises to the American people?”

It’s not a trick question, but one that goes to the core of an individual’s values and character. What is marriage? Is it something for the convenience of the U.S. Post Office for orderly mail delivery, or is there a Higher Authority behind it? For most people, marriage is a sacrament with “rules” firmly established by God and when followed these rules benefit married couples, their children and society. Among the main requirements of marriage is fidelity. “Forsaking all others” is the phrase contained in the Christian marriage vow. Divorce has become widely accepted (though not to the Author of marriage) as a sometimes “necessary evil,” but adultery remains for most people what it has always been: a betrayal.

It’s not just a religious concept. Ask a person who is married but does not believe in God how he or she would feel about a cheating spouse and you most likely would get the same response you would receive from one who does believe in a higher power: anger and profound disappointment.

In The Washington Post’s “Reliable Sources” column last week, Roxanne Roberts and Amy Argetsinger asked, “Is an affair still the kiss of death?” That they have to ask the question is another indicator of falling standards. Once, divorce was a political “kiss of death.” Now we are debating whether adultery should carry a similar penalty. One shudders to think what might be next.

Ultimately, what voters must decide is this: Does a presidential candidate’s personal flaws rise (or fall) to a level that inhibits his ability to do the job of president? Put another way, if you are about to have surgery, do you care if the doctor is a cad, or do you care more whether most of his patients are alive and well?

With the multiple challenges Americans face and with the choices presented to us, if the country is to be made well, voters may just have to sacrifice the ideal for the pragmatic.

Cal Thomas is a columnist for Tribune Media Services. His email address is tmseditors@tribune.com.


Paul R Getto 6 years, 5 months ago

We need to grow up and think like the Europeans. Pay attention to their policies not their 'hobbies.'

thebigspoon 6 years, 5 months ago

Lie. You have posted something that can not be proven, and your limited credibility has dropped another notch. Do you glory in making unfounded, silly statements just for the heck of it, or are you so blind as to not see the meaning of anything?

bad_dog 6 years, 5 months ago

"Do you glory in..."

Quite simply, yes.

Scott Drummond 6 years, 5 months ago

And what is to be concluded from the politician who has serial adulterous affairs and is driven out of Congress for ethical failing? For some it is all forgiven if he stands a chance of beating the food stamp President who stirs their irrational hatred.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 5 months ago

He also was having an affair while screaming for Clinton's head on a platter after the Lewinski affair. How quickly some forget.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 5 months ago

True. But it's all about whether or not you get "caught".

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

While the liberal media was all over Herman Cain's case from the first whisper, they did nothing, I mean nothing, when rumors concerning John Edwards began to surface. It took the National Enquirer to investigate Edwards and break the story, demonstrating how close a lying, cheating, slick adulterer can get to the presidency if he's a liberal politician. One named Bill Clinton actually pulled it off.

thebigspoon 6 years, 5 months ago

Bull. You may not wish something away. Just try some research before you spout that silliness.

cato_the_elder 6 years, 5 months ago

Why "research" something that is established fact? Do you deny that the National Enquirer finally broke the story on Edwards? Do you deny that B.J. Clinton was a serial adulterer while he was governor of Arkansas? Have you lived in a cave for 20 years? Or are you perhaps only 20 years old?

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 5 months ago

Sez the man who faithfully and fully drinks the FOX Koolaid. By the way, did you know that Fox got caught just a couple of days ago using footage of riots in Greece and saying it was set in Russia? / twists her finger into her dimple and twirls her curls and smiles.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

"...trying to convince most of the forum that indeed 90% of the media is liberal is impossible."

Trying to convince most of the forum the moon is made of cheese is also impossible. In general, it is hard to convince most people of something that simply isn't true.

Terry Sexton 6 years, 5 months ago

Snap sez the moon is made of butter so I made some pancakes. I'm so disappointed.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 5 months ago

"Lefty hypocrisy", zombie? The GOP is the party that espouses "family values" and has used the affairs of Democrats for decades to hunt, harass, accuse and point the finger at them. They've brought down more political careers with that excuse than any other. They do it with great glee to the extent of trying to actually shut down the government of the country. And now...NOW they wish the country to ignore those same affairs among their own? So, how does it feel to be hoisted by your own petard?

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 5 months ago

"Repubs say " let's stick to the issues" until there is a threat, then they bring out the opponents baggage and the baggage's baggage. The height of hypocrisy resides in Republican ranks--especially now more than ever. When Cain and Gingrich saw what they could get away with in '11, they became more arrogant than the human mind can possiby comprehend."

There, fixed it for ya. I have to laugh, zombie. Obviously there isn't a mirror in your house.

tomatogrower 6 years, 5 months ago

The first politician that I remember the "liberal" press going after was Gary Hart, Democrat. Then there was the relentless, gleeful attach on Clinton. All the while Republicans claiming that they are the party of "family values", and that Democrats are satan's own children. What's the saying about stones and glass houses?

Flap Doodle 6 years, 5 months ago

I don't give a darn that Cain had an affair. The fact that he thought that the story wouldn't come out brings his judgement into question.

jhawkinsf 6 years, 5 months ago

Democrats and their supporters say blah, blah, blah. Republicans and their supporters say blah, blah, blah. FOX this, MSMBC that. Same old same old. Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention Democrats or Republicans and nowhere does it mention a two party system. It's time to think outside the box because this box is broken.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago


What a torturous column.

First, he blames our "culture" for politicians "acting out", as if they have no ability to make better choices than what they see on tv/movies, and are too weak to do so.

Then, he criticizes the lack of morality among politicians and others, leading one to believe that he'll criticize Cain/Gingrich.

But, then the final twist - he doesn't do that, and instead offers that we should ignore that very same lack of morality in them, unlike his view on Edwards, whom he would ask why we should trust him.

He must be sore from all of that twisting around :-)

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, actually, it's a bit of both, since I found it rather unpleasant and painful to read :-)

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

I accept your correction.

I take it you agree with my take on the column, since your only response is to correct my spelling/usage.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

Then, why not post some substantive disagreement with the content?

I'd love to see it, since all I did was read the column and condense it a bit.

  1. Blame the culture (that removes responsibility from politicians).

  2. Blame a lack of morality (which assumes responsibility on their part).

  3. Then don't apply that to Gingrich, but apply it to Edwards.

What's your disagreement exactly?

jonas_opines 6 years, 5 months ago

This comment was removed by the site staff for violation of the usage agreement.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 5 months ago

This column is just flat out hilarious. A comedy club comedian couldn't do better. It ranks up there with Newt's excuse that he did all of those women for "patriotic reasons".

bad_dog 6 years, 5 months ago

Yeah, he was "overworked" and made "mistakes".

acg 6 years, 5 months ago

OMG U guys, they all do it. They're all hypocrites. And I know some of you are smart enough to know that and realize that, so why are you still arguing? People have been cheating on their spouses and lying to cover it up since the beginning of time, what makes a politician any different? Why can't we all just agree on this point: when it comes to sex, no one is ever going to tell you the whole truth? Now let's try to agree on this: who gives a crap? There have been good politicians, dem and repub, that were at caught with their pants down. It doesn't make a bit of difference to me. What I want to know is...can they run a freakin' country without running it into the ground? Everything else is just bullsh*t.

roadwarrior 6 years, 5 months ago

the only problem with your statement is that it's purely social.... the concern isnt the behavior by politicians necessarily, it's about our national security as a result of behavior by politicians. People who are entrusted with state secrets (etc.) have to pass security clearances and maintain them. Hiding secrets of their own makes them vulnerable to blackmail which falls under the category of NOT maintaining. Isn't that what Edwards was ultimately busted for ? Breech of the public trust in his attempts to bury his secrets by using public funds to pull it off ? (for one example)

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

"With the multiple challenges Americans face and with the choices presented to us, if the country is to be made well, voters may just have to sacrifice the ideal for the pragmatic."

What Cal is really saying is this: Conservatives must give up their core beliefs regarding family values in order to vote Obama out of office, despite the fact that Obama and his family live by those core values on a daily basis.

No wonder the vitriol from the "conservatives" on this site is amping up lately. They know that in reality, true conservatives likely aren't about to give up their core values in order to vote for Newt Gingrich. On the other hand, the religious right conservatives likely aren't going to be voting in number for Mitt Romney because of his Mormonism. Either way you slice it, Republicans are upset over their own choices, and it is starting to sink in.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Pretty much.

I posted this link on another article but it seems more than relevant to this article and discussion.


"Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council . . . , 'Under normal circumstances, Gingrich would have some real problems with the social-conservative community... But these aren't normal circumstances.'"

"In other words, this guy clearly doesn't stand for our values but we are ready to jettison those in order to make sure our party wins the 2012 election."

Something else very interesting from this article: ". . . a headline in 'Christianity Today' a few months ago read, 'Survey: Frequent Bible Reading Can Turn You Liberal.'"

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

I just realized why you like using "Big Daddy" so much. Big Daddy was one of the zombies in the movie Land of the Dead!

You identify!

Zombie! Zombie! Zombie! Zombie!

Kirk Larson 6 years, 5 months ago

The affairs are not a big deal. What the republicans can't seem to get is that the hypocrisy is worse than the affair! I remember the account of Gingrich's wife No. 2 about him going off to speak at some conservative family values thing when she knew he was having an affair. He thought nothing of lying to the rubes through his teeth. I particularly loved how rep. Mark Souter made a video about abstinence...with his mistress! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pj0i17... Like I said: the hypocrisy is worse than the affair itself.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

The strange thing is that people continued to support Herman Cain after the stories of sexual harassment in the workplace became public. Affairs are bad enough, but they are at least relationships between consenting adults. Harassment is unwanted, and it can happen to anyone in the workplace, but it happens most often to women. It is repugnant that Cain's fundraising went up after the reports of harassment were exposed.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 5 months ago

"What the republicans can't seem to get is that the hypocrisy is worse than the affair!" And this is the meat of the matter. They just can't seem to understand that, after decades of "holier than thou" attitudes and behavior and claiming to be the party of God, apple pie and family values, just why people are so angry at the hypocrisy. It's not the affairs themselves that tick people off, it's the sheer arrogance and hubris of the idea that, just because it's Newt or Herman, it doesn't make a difference. Wait. Say, what?????

voevoda 6 years, 5 months ago

So Cal Thomas, usually the champion of individual responsibility, decides to blame "the culture" for politicians' marital infidelity. Usually Cal Thomas rails against certain people's (liberals') "immorality" and then judges them to be beyond the pale. Today, once he is done scolding Cain and Gingrich, he tells readers to overlook their immorality and vote for them anyway. Hypocrisy? Why should voters overlook adultery, but not other sins? Such as the "sin" of wanting to emulate Jesus and feed the hungry, heal the sick, and provide for the poor? Or the "sin" of calling upon people to pay their taxes? Why shouldn't voters overlook these "sins" and vote for Obama anyway?

Christine Anderson 6 years, 5 months ago

I would love to know if politicians' ( and any man's) mistresses think it was worth it. Man claims he is going through a "rough patch" in his marriage. Claims that both his wife and mistress meet an emotional need. Yes, says he loves both women. This kind of thing can go on for years. The day comes when wife finds out-uh oh. Wife goes bonkers with hatred toward mistress. (Okay, rightfully so.) Falls for the man's tearful begging, "Please forgive me, she meant nothing to me." Except I imagine that is not what he was telling the mistress all along.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Quite true, but you forgot about him telling his mistress that his wife knows about the affair and is OK with it, and promising the mistress that he is going to leave his wife and marry her. Then wife finds out and confront shocked mistress. And on the occasion when he does actually marry the mistress, she is surprised to find that he's cheating on her.

Christine Anderson 6 years, 5 months ago

So true, so true. If the mistress is lucky, the wife does the finding out and confronting via voicemail, using the phone belonging to the cheater. The same phone she just had to pick up and read text messages from that were sent to him, not her. Oooppss.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

I have mixed feelings about whether cheating on a spouse makes one unfit for public office. While sex between two consenting adults is completely different than sexual harassment, which by definition means one person is not consenting, if a person having an affair is married, there is probably at least one person involved who is not consenting and that is the cheated-on spouse. If there are children, they also did not consent and will undoubtably suffer. If one doesn't care that much for family, then maybe they don't care that much about the rest of us.

But I could be wrong and every situation is different. Even if I liked Gingrich otherwise (and I don't), the way he treated his multiple soon-to-be ex-wives would certainly give me pause.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago

It's definitely a "character" issue.

The real problem is that infidelity is ridiculously common in our society, and if we set our standards too high in that regard, we won't be able to find anybody to elect.

I agree that consensual sex is better than harassment, and that spouses and families suffer when people cheat, even if it's consensual.

What do you think would help reduce the high infidelity rates?

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Well, you've gone and asked the 64 million dollar question. Atheists supposedly have less divorce, don't know about fidelity, and I know from experience that certain religious groups have much less divorce and appear to have little infidelity, but I also know that sometimes that is at the expense of spouses and children being mentally or even physically abused.

So the only answer I can give is that people need to be taught "character" traits, such as honesty and integrity, from birth and that a promise made should be kept. Where I grew up, a person's word was their bond---there was no need to swear on the Bible (and they refused to do so) because it should be known that you would keep your word.

Other than that, I don't have an answer.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Second sentence above---I meant that I don't know any statistics about atheist fidelity, not that atheists don't know about fidelity.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

After further thought, I wonder if our current lack of community has something to do with infidelity. About forty years ago I attended a Friend's Meeting for some time---when a couple married, the whole meeting vowed to support them and their marriage, so the promises involved more than just the couple. In some religious communities people are guilted into staying married and/or not having affairs and I see that as perpetuating a lot of abusive situations, but I think that community support and respect for other people and relationships, not just marriage, does make a difference. Also, a broken relationship affects the whole community in a very personal way.

I think a common thread which runs through these political affairs is arrogance, a lust for power and a lack of empathy. Also it's said and is probably true that power is an aphrodisiac and women tend to either fall for or pursue powerful men. There is no lack of readily available partners.

Why is it that women in politics don't seem to have affairs, or at least don't get caught?

Armstrong 6 years, 5 months ago

Clinton did it and got a pass. Cain had accusers, no proof mind you and the left crucified him. The problem I have with liberalism, values only apply when convenient.

jafs 6 years, 5 months ago




Christian values.

Armstrong 6 years, 5 months ago

Clinton did it and got a pass. Cain had accusers, no proof mind you and the left crucified him. The problem I have with liberalism, values only apply when convenient.

beatrice 6 years, 5 months ago

The point of Cal's story is that he is pointing out that conservative values will apply except now, when it is inconvenient: "With the multiple challenges Americans face and with the choices presented to us, if the country is to be made well, voters may just have to sacrifice the ideal for the pragmatic."

"sacrifice the ideal (values) for the pragmatic (the values aren't convenient right now).

Didn't you read the article?

Cain chose to quit the race and Clinton hardly received a "pass." Everything about your double post is incorrect.

Armstrong 6 years, 5 months ago

Problem is Obama, trustworthy, skilled and credible are words usually not used in the same sentence.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

Despite rumors on these very boards that there was going to be a big expose right before the election, it does seem that President Obama has been faithful to his wife. Somehow I think that if he ever felt tempted to stray, the thought of what Mrs. Obama would do would give him pause. I don't see her as sitting meekly by or doing the walk of shame beside her husband.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

I could be wrong, but I don't recall Hillary standing beside Bill as he confessed. As for sticking with him---well, that's between them and none of my business.

Strange though that so many "family values" people criticized her for staying married. For her it was politics, for the "right" people, it's forgiveness and righteousness.

verity 6 years, 5 months ago

I've been told to let people know with a little face or something when I'm being sarcastic, but I forgot how to make the face. I meant that it seemed a lot of "family values" people were saying that Hillary stayed with Bill because of politics and criticized her for doing so rather than supporting her for having "family values." I thought that was wrong.

I have no idea why Hillary stayed with Bill, but---at risk of all sorts of harsh criticism and derision---I really have the feeling that, despite everything, there is still a fondness and attachment between them. I do not always agree with her, but I do admire her strength and persistence.

pace 6 years, 5 months ago

You have a right to your opinion. I find it wearying how many people think a woman will do something, or should feel one way or another. My mom thought I should be like a 1950's iconic housewife, no matter that she wasn't one, I wasn't interested in that or my husband would of been horrified if I had tried that role on. My friend thinks one isn't in love unless they are jealous and possessive. I remember trying to talk a friend into dating a nice guy, she said she didn't want to date a wimp. nice=wimp for her. She is on abusive relationship #3, but he is faithful. i don't care about how couples deal. I don't think it is appropriate how many project or judge what they want a woman to do, without doing her dishes.

Sunny Parker 6 years, 5 months ago

"I did not have sexual relations with that woman"!

ah but you did!

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