The Republican Party primary race is heating up, sparking arguments across campus on which candidate is the most promising, who is spouting which policies and who is involved in the latest scandal.
As time winds down to the final deciding moment, the number of skeletons being dragged from metaphorical closets will certainly increase. The political race is already dredging up every dirty detail on candidates, easily skewing the focus from more important facts.
This seems to be a common and prevailing element of American culture: the public’s fascination with the personal lives of prominent figures. The more dramatic the details the better, and if some investigative reporter can discover a humiliating scandal and contact the New York Times, prepare for a front-cover story because that scandal will be hitting headlines across the country.
The classic and perhaps one of the more notorious examples of this would be former President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. The country was in outrage when the story broke, leading to months of shocking articles following the story and inspiring great distrust from the public. The then-president faced perjury charges and a humiliating place in history as just the second American president to be impeached.
Clinton did manage to make his way through the scandal with his presidency intact but the ramifications of his dishonesty featured prominently in the following presidential race, where once-Vice President and fellow democrat Al Gore suffered from the bad press of his predecessor. Political analysts report there was a clear negative effect on Gore’s campaign linked directly to Clinton’s misbehaviors.
There is a lot to be said for wanting a presidential candidate who has led a clean personal life – after all, one can deduce that if this person leads an honest hardworking life at home then they will likely be an honest and hardworking president. A line must be drawn, however, when personal details that in no way affect someone’s credibility are being used to attack political candidacy.
Consider Bristol Palin, daughter of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, whose teenage extramarital pregnancy was splashed ruthlessly across the nation’s headlines during the 2008 presidential race. The then-18-year-old’s accidental pregnancy served as fodder in attacks against republican nominee John McCain and Palin. The conservative views forwarded by Palin during the race took on a hypocritical, embarrassing tone in light of her daughter. That sort of offensive attack is not only brutal but just plain wrong.
The general idea of a presidential campaign is for candidates to present their stances on important topics so the people may make an informed decision on who they believe will lead the country best. At least, this should be the case. Instead of focusing on policies, the public loves to hear how current republican candidate Newt Gingrich asked for an open marriage or what newly prejudiced views Texas Gov. Rick Perry is publicizing.
The difficulty with this is that real issues are being lost in the scandalous stories. If candidates are really to come under national scrutiny the focus should be on how airtight their debates are or how valid their arguments, not on flimsy stories that make them look bad. Attacking the person is a cheap trick to discredit an opponent because the other side is too ignorant and petty to actually argue their point up front.
Presidential candidates especially should be scrutinized on their merits of effectiveness and competency, not on how proper their family life is. Could values exhibited at home illustrate similar values at the office? Of course. Personal lives, however, should not be the main focus of a political race.