Former Sen. Gary Hart is on a book tour, trying to expunge his image as a philanderer, not by confession but by debunking such behavior as irrelevant to overall character and leadership skills. Philanderers talk like that. It insulates them from reality, responsibility, and accountability.
Psychiatrist Frank Pittman has written a sobering article for the May/June issue of the professional journal Family Therapy Networker. In it he rips apart such thinking. Using President Clinton as his example, Mr. Pittman writes, "We elected an apparently post-patriarchal leader-a noncompetitive idealist, a pot-smoking pacifist who called for love, not war, a feminist with a powerful wife as an equal partner-and now he seems to want the privilege of old-style patriarchs, like Greek gods, Roman emperors, Renaissance popes, and Kennedys."
Dr. Pittman goes deeper than Rep. Dan Burton, who called Mr. Clinton a "scumbag." He says, "Clinton was our yuppie Schindler-the badly flawed man who could save his soul by saving our lives. But we see now that his services come too high, requiring too much compromise of our values. It's hard to live a lie, let alone defend one. It messes with our minds to defend the president."
The beauty of his article is that it isn't about politics. His views result from years of clinical experience with philanderers: "I see people in post-traumatic shock from their own affairs or those of their loved ones. There may be greater sins than adultery, but not when it is happening in your family, in your marriage, or in the marriage of your parents. While the betrayed spouses in my practice can't understand how a man can betray his loved ones, his country, his place in history for something so insignificant as a sexual dalliance, the philanderers find it perfectly reasonable. They consider such behavior normal. They proudly include the president as one of their group. These men, usually either fatherless or the sons of philanderers, avoid intimacy and often sex at home, while devoting a lifetime to the seduction and abandonment of strange women, forever reliving puberty rituals they hoped would make them feel like men."
For those, like Gary Hart, who believe public and private character can be separated, Dr. Pittman responds: "Philandering requires a life of duplicity, constant betrayals, sexual obsession and gender preoccupation. It may be a good way to build seductive skills, but not a good way to develop character or responsibility. Philanderers lie."
Dr. Pittman says while the public can live with what the president has done, they still want the truth. In his experience, he says, the only thing that hurts a husband or wife more than extramarital sex is the lies and coverup efforts, which are the greater betrayal.
Sexual freedom comes with a price, notes Dr. Pittman. "We give up our right to throw stones." He seems to partially excuse philanderers like the president, saying they've never been told the truth. But that's too easy. Truth is available to any person. The president can find it in a book he carries to church on Sundays.
Based on his clients' patterns of denial, Dr. Pittman predicts President Clinton will continue to deny any sexual misadventures and will be supported, though not believed. While Dr. Pittman forecasts no crippling legal consequences, Mr. Clinton "will live out his damaged term amidst derision and contempt and he will go down in history as a fool rather than the hero he aspired to be." In the process, we lose respect for the presidency until it is again filled with someone worthy of our respect. "The philanderers among us will see only that another man defeated his female accusers and won; the rest of us will see what he lost. And the whole thing will continue to be a national joke."
Gary Hart cites great presidents who allegedly had affairs, saying we wouldn't have them if today's standards applied. Thankfully, we didn't have Mr. Hart as president because standards did apply. And it's fair to ask if he and Mr. Clinton would lie to their wives, on what basis should we believe other promises they make?
© 1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate