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Rev. Debra Haffner Headshot

Why I Don't Care If John McCain Had an Affair in 1999...and Why You Shouldn't Either

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You've read the allegations. I don't need to repeat them.

The compulsive game of "sexual gotcha" has officially begun this election season. More than a few commentators have worried what will happen if there is a not-so-unexpected discovery of a Bill Clinton post-White House affair. We remember back to other presidential campaigns unraveled by allegations of extra-marital sex. Who knows how many reporters are investigating past or present romantic relationships by the other candidates, but I am sure they are out there.

I think we need to go back to the "good old days" of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Eisenhower, and Roosevelt. The press knew that these men were having sexual relationships, and they also knew it wasn't the public's business.

In my more than 30 years of counseling and educating adults about their sexuality, I know that there are many ways that couples create contracts, explicit as well as unspoken, about their understanding of monogamy. Although in a given year, most married couples are monogamous, the life time incidence of extramarital sex, depending on the study, ranges from one quarter to 50 percent. I'm guessing a study of politicians -- who almost by definition are charismatic and powerful and often away from their spouses, all factors in who have affairs -- would find much higher rates.

The point is that these are intensely private issues that should be addressed in the privacy of their own marriages, not in national newspapers. I do not know if John and Cindy McCain had an agreement that allows for outside romance under certain circumstances, but I do know that's not my business. And I for sure know that these issues don't belong on our front pages, when we should be debating the moral issues of the economy, the budget, and the war.

I said to the press during the Lewinsky episode, that President Clinton, rather than saying, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" while shaking his finger at America, should instead have said "these are intensive private issues that I will not address with anyone except my wife and daughter. We hope that you respect our privacy at this difficult time." I think it's fair to say that would have avoided impeachment.

Of course, I want to know about the candidates' character, values, and positions. I want to know if any of them are or have taken money illegally or allowed their personal relationships, whether familial, romantic, or friendship, to cause them to make improper decisions.

I just don't think it's our business if and how they are engaging in adult, consensual sexual relationships and the agreements they have about fidelity in their marriages. And I think each of the candidates needs to say, when asked, when provoked, "I am happy to answer any questions you have about my policies or decisions; my family life is not open to discussion except with the people I love."