Would JFK's dalliance with an intern be big news in 2012?
Mimi Beardsley Alford's memoir about her affair with John F. Kennedy when she was an intern is certainly a reminder of how things have changed since the 1960s. In those days a politician's private dalliances, even if they were known to reporters, never made it into print. Today, of course, that gentleman's agreement has mostly broken down (though John Edwards benefited from some indulgence by the MSM).
But that's not the only change. Strangely, other developments since the '60s may have neutralized the damage caused by politicians' extracurricular sex lives, resulting in the same insulation that JFK enjoyed for other reasons. It's interesting that in a more recent intern-related scandal, advocates of Bill Clinton's impeachment took pains to say that it wasn't his affair with Monica Lewinsky that damned him but his lying under oath. More recently, Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary after his second wife alleged that he had asked her for an "open marriage" so that he could keep his mistress.
To be sure, many Christians conservatives were appalled by the open marriage story, and both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney clearly hope to capitalize in the long run from their history of marital fidelity. But if John F. Kennedy were running for reelection in this era, would news of an affair with an intern doom him at the polls? Given Bill Clinton’s post-Monica popularity, the answer may be no.
-- Michael McGough
Photo: John F. Kennedy in California. Credit: William S. Murphy / Los Angeles Times