DID YOU EVER COMMIT ADULTERY?


In a recent exchange on Crossfire, Michael Kinsley of Slate magazine asked Randy Tate of the Christian Coalition whether
he thought it right that every candidate for political office should be asked the question, Have you ever been guilty of
adultery? Kinsley is a skilled polemicist and he knew that he-that his side-had nothing to lose by asking the question. If
Tate said Yes, Kinsley could have gone on in an ad absurdum direction. ("When should these questions be posed to the
candidates, before they run, or when they are nominated? Should the candidates be made to answer the questions under
oath? Should they submit to polygraph tests to see if they are being truthful? Should local papers advertise for evidence to
the contrary?") So what did Tate do? He went on at digressive length about the importance of setting high standards. He
was of course right and, of course, he did not answer Kinsley's question.

So that logic-choppers are left wondering, If it is not required of a politician that he should have led a blameless life, why
then did Robert Livingston feel he had to resign his position as Speaker-elect? The answer to that question is partly
speculative, partly it is tied to circumstance. Perhaps Mr. Livingston was throwing in the towel before his past habits were
flashed on widescreen, revealing something a little different from a one-night stand, or a single engrossing passion. And then
the revelation was done at just the wrong psychological moment: The House was minutes away from impeaching the
president and an impulse was brewing to call on Mr. Clinton to end the national misery by simply resigning. The burden of
the moment then fell very heavily on Mr. Livingston. He was standing before the altar at the moment when the minister asks
if there is any reason why the ceremony should not go forward that added up to unbearable pressure to get out of the way
of Larry Flynt's searchlight.

But Randy Tate not having answered Kinsley's question doesn't exempt others more practiced in polemics from exploring
it. The implicit premise of the Kinsley position is: The whole business about adultery is silly. Adultery is the way of life of a
swarm of people and the idea that none of these is entitled to hold office is preposterous. And of course he is right. An act
of adultery doesn't require exhibiting a scarlet letter on your chest for the balance of your life. On the other hand, adultery is
not a trivial offense. So how do aspirant candidates handle the question?

Dan Quayle handled it by saying, flatly, that he had never erred on his conjugal pledges.

That was a very bad move. In 1952, when Richard Nixon gave his Checkers speech, he announced that he would in effect
hand over a copy of his income tax returns to the press. That gesture infuriated presidential candidate and running mate
Dwight Eisenhower. Nixon's flourish put pressure on him (and on opponent Adlai Stevenson) to do the same thing. Ike
was embarrassed because he had been anxious to conceal the paucity of his gifts to charity, a husbandry West Pointers in
the Twenties had got into trying to raise families on $150 per month. Vice President Gore got stung on the same count a
few months ago, caught up giving a total of three and one-half peanuts to charity in the preceding year.

But such questions should not be asked. On the Johnny Carson program one time I was asked (not by Carson) whether I
had ever smoked marijuana. I said that that was not a proper question, and I curse myself for having nevertheless gone
on to answer it. We need something like a bond by legislators and candidates, to the effect that such questions are out of
order and that those who do answer such questions will be excluded from polite company.

Now this has nothing to do with the gravity of the offense, but has much to do with an understanding of life's complexities.
The adultery of the soldier on leave in Vietnam is different from de facto polygamy on Park Avenue; different, certainly,
from exhibitionistic revelry in the hallway of the Oval Office. A candidate for office in the House of Commons in the last
election made no effort to conceal his sexual behavior, on the contrary he brought attention to it in an