When The Miami Herald had the bright and contemptible idea to spy on Gary Hart's house to see if a girl didn't come out sooner or later (whoo, boy, lookee here what we got) a solemn justification was advanced, that this showed bad judgment and was therefore relevant to a candidate's competence.
But nobody believed the story was anything more than a juicy nugget to amuse readers, and there is no need to dwell on improvised arguments for printing sex stuff about the great.
But the dead are even fairer game than the living. A Washington hostess, Joan Braden, has written an outline and sent it to publishers as inducement to them to buy and publish her memoirs. And in them we were all amused to read about the late senator Robert Kennedy, who in a time of grief over his brother's murder is said to have flopped down on the woman's bed and kissed her, but she didn't go to bed with him and watched his "straight back" walking down the street as he left her condolent tenderness.
Then there was that funny time, she goes on, when the late vice president Nelson Rockefeller joined her naked in the shower, and I can't remember but I think that was an exercise in saving water.
Question: Are these little items justifiable because they, too, show bad judgment by political figures?
Listen, if you're female and die and are a ghost and start to take a shower in Heaven, you better watch out for that Rockefeller. He has a way of turning up (God knows how) in a lady's shower. So probably a useful warning to dead virgins has been issued.
It used to be that only gorgeous sirens wrote such testimonials to their maddening attractiveness to men, and even then they were published only after the author was safely dead. But now any 60-year-old housewife knows it's her duty to history to disclose her various enchanting memories, preferably while still able to peddle them for $100,000 (the asking price, which she says no publisher has blanched at).
Meanwhile, Gary Hart has addressed the nation through the "Nightline" television show to say he has on occasion been unfaithful to his wife, but hopes this sin (the word is his) will be seen in rational perspective. However sinful his behavior may have been, he said, at least it didn't involve lying to Congress or shredding papers or playing with money or (he might have added, since he was alluding to the Reagan administration) bombing tots in Libya.
Ted Koppel, who interviewed Hart, said any politician has to play the hand he is dealt, fair or not. Hart has the advantage, Koppel said, of good looks and skill at speaking on television. Those are great advantages to a politician, and if we're going to talk about what's fair, what about a senator who is distinctly plain in the face and who has a tendency to hum, haw and mumble? Yet such a senator might have enormous gifts as president. Thus (we may gather) things even out and it's wrong to complain about a bum rap in the media, if you're a senator like Hart, when you don't mind accepting so many unfair advantages in the way of looks, vigah, etc.
But Hart wonders if every sin is to be dished up for the amusement of the general public? If so, he said he believes, some pretty capable potential presidents are going to avoid the fray.
What Hart may not have noticed is that capable people in general, who might have done well in American politics, have already avoided the fray, unwilling to pay the goldfish-bowl costs of a political life, and unwilling to flatter every idiot between Bangor and Boise. It is quite possible we are already drawing political leaders from the bottom of the barrel, and it taxes nobody's brains to think of a stunning example or two.
It's a brutal life, at best, and the common wisdom (at least in the press) is that nobody asks a guy to be a candidate, and if he runs, then he should expect politics to be the kind of life it is. Whether political life could be changed for the better is a substantial question, of course, that would require a good five minutes' further reflection.
But Hart's points about a politician's bedtime life are by no means self-serving. Much that he says deserves more serious thought than is likely to be given by that part of the electorate that is keen to drool over a politician's feet of clay and cumulative shower record, even if his back is straight.