By Ken Rudin
Question: We've heard a lot about how President Clinton got caught doing what a lot of former presidents did while in office. How many presidents have had affairs while serving in the White House? Don Williams, Springfield, Mass.
Answer: Clinton is not the first president to be accused of sexual misconduct, but his administration is the first to be consumed by such charges. Many of the alleged offenses of the past 209 years were just whispers, and in cases where the episodes were apparently real, they didn't become public until well after the presidents were out of office. Still, while nobody seems to get into as much trouble over marital fidelity as Bill Clinton, nobody has shown the uncanny resiliency to get out of such trouble as well.
Actually, rumors involving sex have been flying since the days of George Washington, who was said to have cheated on unsuspecting Martha. The most famous story which was reported at the time involved Grover Cleveland. Ten days after he received the Democratic presidential nomination in 1884, a Buffalo newspaper reported that the unmarried Cleveland had fathered a son out of wedlock 11 years earlier. Cleveland, who never denied the story, financially supported the child. The Republicans had a field day with the revelation. There is some dispute over the authorship of a memorable ditty of the time:
Ma, ma, where's my Pa?
Some scholars argue it was sung by the Republicans to mock the illegitimate child. Others say the second line was added by Democrats to mock the Republicans after Cleveland's victory.
In 1918, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was assistant secretary of the Navy, his wife Eleanor discovered he had been carrying on an affair with Lucy Mercer, her social secretary. By all accounts, from that time forward, the Roosevelts' marriage became no more than a "business partnership." In fact, FDR was with Mercer when he died in Warm Springs, Georgia, in 1945.
While seemingly tame compared to the above stories, there was a big hubbub in 1976 when candidate Jimmy Carter admitted in a Playboy interview that he had "committed adultery in my heart many times." Some fundamentalists were upset by his remarks, but they did not derail his march to the presidency.
Question: I live in Norway. The Monica Lewinsky case is all over the news here too. There is something I don't understand. How can one little hug on TV end up like an affair? Kevin Tempel, Tromso, Norway
Answer: The same way a third-rate burglary could end Richard Nixon's presidency. There's more to it than what appears.
And speaking about vices. . .
Question: Has there ever been an unsuccessful V.P. candidate who later won the presidency? Philip Holzbauer, Valley Lee, Md.
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© Copyright 1998 Ken Rudin