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We can’t seem to get enough information when it comes to the sex lives of powerful politicians. The Real Housewives of GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich. Former Congressman Anthony Weiner and Weinergate. Former Governor Mark Sanford went hiking on the Old Appalachian Trial. These are just a few of a very long list of sexual antics in American politics. But this week, there’s a doozie of a new addition that’s left many of us scratching our heads. The new book, Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath, already a bestseller, reveals that John F. Kennedy had an affair with a then-19-year-old White House intern.
Do we care? Clearly, we do. Otherwise, these stories would get little attention and wouldn’t sell books or end political careers. Herman Cain took himself out of the 2012 presidential race to quell the reports about alleged sexual harassment and possible affairs. The tale of Bill Clinton’s dalliances with Monica Lewinsky led to his impeachment and almost brought an otherwise remarkable presidency to a screeching halt. Now, in Once Upon a Secret, 69-year-old author Mimi Alford regales us with tales of an 18-month affair that included swimming in the White House pool, losing her virginity to J.F.K. in Jackie’s bed, and President Kennedy’s love of yellow rubber ducks.
In an exclusive interview with Meredith Vieira for NBC’s Rock Center, Alford talks about her book and her decision to come forward now, sixty years after the fact.
With the fascination over this story, and the lack of reaction over Gingrich’s past love life, it makes me wonder, what if an intern came forward today alleging an extramarital affair with one of the candidates? And would it matter which one? Many voters have given Gingrich a pass for his affairs, but would we be so forgiving if it was Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum?
In today’s political climate, every personal story about candidates running for national office is fair game. If those reports reflect on a candidate’s character, historian and author Robert Dallek, who wrote generally about Alford’s affair in his book An Unfinished Life, says it should. Would we have elected Richard Nixon if we’d been more tuned in to his meanness and penchant to labeling people his “enemies?” Should we have paid more attention to tales of Bill Clinton’s love life before putting him in the White House?
I think we can all agree we’re past the stage where people truly believe that politicians should be held to higher ethical standards than the rest of us. And no one will be shocked if we learn more than we really care to about the remaining GOP field before a winner finally energes. But if anyone breaks a story about Ron Paul and a 19-year-old intern, I’m covering my ears and running the other way.
Watch: Ann Romney & Callista Gingrich: GOP Wives' Cheat Sheet - Part 1
Watch: Karen Santorum & Carolyn Paul: GOP Wives' Cheat Sheet - Part 2
You can read more from iVillage iVote Editor and Correspondent Joanne Bamberger at her blog, PunditMom. Joanne is also the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, on sale now at Amazon.com. Follow her on Twitter at @PunditMom.