Critics of Bill Clinton have a problem. After denouncing the marital infidelities of the president of the United States, some are now trying to draw a distinction between his actions and those of New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who is alleged by his wife to have had a "relationship" with a former top aide and who has been seen in public with another woman he describes as a "very good friend." Giuliani defenders explain that Mr. Clinton lied under oath about his infidelity with Monica Lewinsky, while the mayor was upfront about his marital difficulties and his pending legal separation from his wife of 16 years, Donna Hanover. Conclusion: Mr. Clinton's behavior is worse than Mr. Giuliani's. Defenders of President Clinton also have a problem. After supporting the president through his impeachment and Senate trial, during which they said his misdeeds were "only" about sex, and asserting that his good performance as president protected him against removal from office, they will have a difficult time criticizing Mr. Giuliani who has, by everyone's acknowledgment, turned New York City into a fun and safe place to visit once again. There is something far more serious than politics taking place, and the outcome will have a greater and longer-lasting effect than who wins the New York Senate contest. It is the trivializing of marriage and the frivolous way many public people treat their marriage vows, which include forsaking all others until death parts them (most also include unconditional love and commitment through thick and thin). The media, including Hollywood, have moved beyond a moral-equivalency treatment of couples who keep their vows and those who don't to favoring those who don't over those who do. If you stay married and don't stray, many consider you weird, while the person who cheats and divorces his or her spouse becomes part of the emotional public processing that passes for thoughtful decision-making. It is impossible to get inside someone else's marriage or head, but the public statement made by Mr. Giuliani in announcing his intention to separate from his wife deserves some comment. "I'm hopeful that we'll be able to formalize this [separation] in an agreement that protects our children, gives them all the security and protection they deserve, and protects Donna," said the mayor. Excuse me, but what would protect their 14- and 10-year-old children and give them security would be for the mayor and his wife to announce they are entering counseling with the specific objective of saving and strengthening their marriage. Such a decision would encourage others with similar problems to do the same. Too many children, who never asked to be born, experience the conditional love of their parents, suffer emotional trauma, and often repeat the same mistakes in their own married lives. Sociologists and common sense tell us that children need both of their parents, and when they don't have them, they often turn to self-destructive and antisocial behavior. At the extreme, they might act out their anger by killing others. No "Million Mom March" can put locks on broken hearts. Some blame President Clinton for the corroding of our culture. He has played a part, but he could not have done it without the public's acquiescence as it fixates on making money and ignores the nobler things. Mssrs. Clinton and Giuliani can have a positive or a negative influence-not only on public policy, but on private morals-by the way they conduct themselves. President Clinton and Mayor Giuliani can continue to show up for work and "do their jobs," but isn't a successful life more than excelling in one's career? It was said that Jimmy Carter's attendance at church encouraged many others to follow his example. Think of how much more good Rudy Giuliani and Donna Hanover could do if they put their separation on hold and focused not only on beating the mayor's prostate cancer, but on conquering the disease that is killing their marriage and hurting their children. The alternative is for Mr. Giuliani to join Mr. Clinton in helping to make the world increasingly safe for adultery.
-© 2000, Los Angeles Times Syndicate