No Sex Please, We're American Voters
This year's prime exhibit was New Jersey, where Senator Jon Corzine scored a decisive win against his Republican opponent in the governor's race, Douglas Forrester, despite a last-minute barrage of attack ads in which Mr. Corzine's ex-wife was quoted as declaring that unlike Mr. Forrester, "Jon did let his family down, and he'll probably let New Jersey down, too."
The idea that private sexual misconduct is beside the point for an elected official goes way back to the founding fathers. Alexander Hamilton famously, and rather hysterically, published a pamphlet detailing his affair with a married woman named Maria Reynolds. He wanted to make it clear that the mysterious payments he had been making to Mr. Reynolds were not part of an embezzlement scheme, but simply a result of good old all-American blackmail. The delegation of congressmen who had been assigned to investigate Hamilton's financial transactions regarded this as way too much information.
The Maria Reynolds affair did produce an outcry among Hamilton's political opponents - one newspaper thundered that "even the frosts of America are incapable of cooling your blood and the eternal snow of Nova Zembla would hardly reduce you to common propriety," which perhaps goes to show that they don't make editorial page editors like they used to. But Hamilton shared the standards of his political peers when it came to morality - if not discretion. And the public went on to elect Thomas Jefferson as president, despite the tavern songs about his relationship with the slave "Monticello Sally" Hemings, and to fall madly in love with Andrew Jackson, who they very well knew had lived with his wife, Rachel, when she was still married to another man.
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