To Pick a President 7 - Family

Yes, a president's family life does matter.

The happiest moments of my life have been the few which I have passed at home in the bosom of my family.

 - Thomas Jefferson

Human nature being what it is, it should come as no surprise that many over the centuries have portrayed Jefferson as a man who availed himself of the bosom, and other charms, of his female slaves who had no choice in the matter.  We are relieved to read of the most recent research which strongly argues that he didn't.

Jefferson aside, it is a historical fact that a many Presidents were unfaithful to their wives.  Most of the time it doesn't appear to do them or the country any harm, at least not on its face.

Why, then, is the family of a Presidential candidate a legitimate subject for public discussion in the same way his experience and other attributes are?  Because a would-be President's family knows something that no ordinary voters can: what the President is like when he's offstage, and thus, what he truly is as a man.

Marital Loyalty

Postmodernists have worked overtime to destroy the sanctity of all wedding vows, but until recently, the standard vows committed the couple to each other "'til death do you part."  Even today, when we think nothing of premarital sex, we still at least frown on extramarital affairs as a betrayal of some kind.

It wasn't all that long ago that Henry Ford refused to employ divorced executives, saying, "A man who won't be faithful to his wife won't be faithful to me."  Is our modern world, in employment or anything else, a more loyal and committed one than Henry Ford's was?  For sure we aren't better governed.

Even liberals who generally defend the sexual revolution aren't above throwing rocks at Newt Gingrich on behalf of his three wives, one of whom he ditched while she was in the hospital recovering from surgery.  Even the most devout social-justice redistributionists found their stomachs turned by the sordid tale of John Edwards who cavorted with an Uglo-American gold-digger while his beautiful, courageous wife was fighting, and dying from, breast cancer.

Marital loyalty clearly counts for something, though it's difficult to explain precisely what.  John McCain's chief attraction was his ironclad loyalty to America and its ideals, even to the point of suffering torture in a Vietnamese prison - yet after his release and return, he dumped his handicapped wife for a far richer replacement.  Mitt Romney, on the other hand, has never been anything but loyal to his family, but that worthy fact is no consolation to conservatives who wonder if President Romney would be loyal to them.

Every American president has been married, though a few were widowed prior to their election, except for one: James Buchanan.  Perhaps it's not entirely coincidence that he's considered one of the worst Presidents, an incompetent and indecisive man whose leadership, or lack thereof, directly inflamed the conflicts that led to the Civil War.


For all of human history until the Baby Boomers, the presence of children has been an assumed constant.  Save for the occasional religious votary or the medically unlucky, everyone had children, and usually lots.  Abraham Lincoln, worrying in the Oval Office over the bloody price of freedom, was cheered and distracted by Willie and Tad romping beneath his desk.

The Pill made it possible for adults to engage in bedroom athletics while putting off becoming parents or avoiding the duty entirely.  This matters, because nothing drives home the weight of long-term decisions like thinking about how they will affect your children.

During the last Presidential campaign, Mr. Obama said he wouldn't want one of his daughters to be "punished" by having to deliver an embarrasing baby.  Thinking of children as punishment isn't quite what we want to hear.

Ronald Reagan, on meeting privately with Gorbachev, made an appeal on the basis of their status as grandparents.  Neither grandfather wanted their offspring roasted in a nuclear fire.

Starting from this common ground, Communism ultimately ended and countless millions of people were freed from Soviet bondage.  Would a childless man have been able to achieve the same worthy goal?  What about a leader who viewed children as a punishment best avoided?

Our current national struggles are directly related to our children and to our children's children - they'll be the ones paying off our immense national debt long after today's politicians are dead and gone.  Our children's children will live in a nation no longer united by one culture, one history, or even one language.  Perhaps if our elites worried about their own children, they might promote different policies.

Children also reflect the priorities of their parents.  It's not fair to blame all youthful mistakes on bad parenting, but a man who can't manage his house is bound to have a hard time running an entire country.

Are the candidate's children raised by hired servants?  Bad sign - our government is already too remote and unfeeling.

Parenting failures, like business failures, teach important life lessons.  No parent of a teenager can possibly think they know everything and a President needs to have a healthy sense of his own limitations.  Considering the way the Imperial Presidency has grown over the years, there may be situations where the President's kids are the only people who dare shout at him or call him a fool.

There is, alas, a downside to Presidential offspring.  As children have been increasingly sidelined from primacy and family life become secondary to "important things," so have important jobs become all-encompassing ways of life.  The absolute monarchs of old still took time to play with the little Princes and Princesses and to instruct them in their royal duties; a visit by Barack Obama to his daughters' soccer game is such an extraordinary event that it spawns conspiracy theories.

Sad though it is, we have to consider the conflict between Presidential duties and family ones.  Most candidates' children are grown and gone, but this year, several have small children yet at home.  Is it possible to be both a good President and a good father of toddlers, much less their mother?  Some have wondered how Sarah Palin can be both a media star and a mother at the same time.

Children are a mirror in which we see ourselves.  They help us understand what we are, and remind us that we ought to take posterity into account.

George Washington was known as the "father of his country," and to an extent, the President has many of the responsibilities of fatherhood toward the entire nation.  The only way to know what fatherhood means is to be one and the only way to know what a candidate thinks fatherhood means is to look at the results.

John Adams once wrote:

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

If this is true of the American people as a whole, how much more strongly it applies to the one who would lead us!  Voters should think very carefully this time about the person they're pulling the lever for - we can't afford another four years of buyers' remorse.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

On this particular attribute, Romney and Bachmann are two obvious winners. Santorum too, but he isn't a serious candidate. The number of children should add a certain number of points to the candidates 'family' score, divided by the number of wives. So if you have 5 kids by 5 different women, you only gets 1 point. A guy with 5 kids but only married once keeps all 5 points.

September 17, 2011 3:16 PM
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