Personal lives of politicians should not matter to voters

It’s likely when Newt Gingrich walked into the last debate before the 2012 South Carolina Primary, he had a good idea of what questions might be heading his way.

Not only had his second failed marriage been the topic of conversation on virtually every news station in the hours leading up to the debate, but his ex-wife had recently conducted an interview with ABC News- which she declared would destroy Gingrich’s campaign for president. 

Sure enough, the debate began with CNN’s John King, the moderator, asking Gingrich if he would like to comment on the situation. “No,” Newt answered. “But I will.”

The Republican presidential hopeful then blasted King and CNN for starting such a crucial debate with a question about a relatively trivial issue. As the audience stood and cheered, King appeared flustered, and Gingrich became even more enraged. 

“The destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office,” Gingrich said as he continued to attack the mainstream news media corporations with words that could not have been more accurate.

It is saddening to think about how many Americans vote for a president every four years, but can’t name our nation’s Speaker of the House, explain the electoral college system or differentiate between the Senate and House of Representatives. In fact, it is likely that the average American would have an easier time naming the past 10 American Idol winners than naming his or her congressional representatives.

Even when it comes to politics, we know more about our elected leaders’ personal lives than we do about their voting track records or major political accomplishments.

Bill Clinton is remembered for his affair with an intern, Bristol Palin received almost as much news coverage for her teenage pregnancy as her mother did for her campaign, and now, a news network chose to open a presidential debate with a pointed question about a candidates’ distantly ended marriage. 

Politicians have, for a long time, had a general reputation for a private scandal. But, should their sometimes scandalous personal lives have significant impact on our voting decisions?

No. Such matters pale in comparison to a candidate’s track record in performance on critical governmental issues. We should instead place our primary focus on candidates proven track records as indicators of whether or not they would be able to carry out their duties successfully. 

Just like a good mechanic who has a troubled personal life is still a good mechanic, a qualified and experienced politician who has had problems with romantic relationships can still be a qualified and effective politician. It seems to me that many in the audience at the South Carolina debate would have agreed with this argument. 

Why, then, do Americans make such a fuss about such personal issues when we know, in the end, these issues should not affect a candidate’s ability to carry out the duties of president?

Every four years, when it comes time for us to choose a new president, Americans will always search for something that will never exist: the perfect candidate. A candidate is either too liberal or too conservative. 

He does not have enough experience in politics, or he has too much experience living in a politically-driven city known for backdoor deals and impossible promises. Her religious background is an issue, or she makes a mistake in an interview. Or, perhaps, the candidate has some weaknesses when it comes to family problems.

There are certain criteria one should use to develop an opinion of a presidential candidate. Look at his or her track record on vital issues like foreign policy, the economy, states’ rights, education and social issues. Consider a candidate’s voting records and level of experience.

These are all legitimate things to look at carefully before casting your vote. Don’t ever expect – or look for – perfection. We are all humans and we all have our failings. When it comes to issues that have very little to do with running the country successfully, we need to be careful to take a step back and remember we will never have a perfect president.


Booey Mittelstadt is a freshman film-television-digital media and political science double major from Chattanooga, Tenn.