Divorce and Politics

The Obama’s and The Divorce Rumors

 

As we near the end of the Presidential campaign season we all know to prepare ourselves for an onslaught of accusations, assertions and, sometimes, outright lies in an attempt to sway public perception to one candidate or another. We also know to expect a rush of books penned by authors with “inside knowledge” as they attempt to promote an agenda while putting a little money in their pockets at the same time.

One such book, an unapproved biography on the President titled, The Amateur by Edward Klein, has been denounced by White House spokespeople as “fiction” and supported by Obama detractors as the truth.

But what is of particular interest is Mr. Klein’s assertion that Michelle Obama drew up divorce papers following the future President’s loss in a political primary race eight years in to their marriage. Using an “anonymous friend” of Mrs. Obama as a source, Klein states that the couple was facing financial difficulties which, as we know, are the one of the most commonly cited reasons for couples divorcing.

Undoubtedly the goal of the author is to break down the perception of the Obama’s having a successful marriage which, at least publicly, it appears they have. But what stands out is the attempt to use divorce, or even the consideration of divorce, as a weapon to stigmatize.

Divorce doesn’t carry the same scarlet letter in politics today as it did decades ago. The Senate and House are filled with divorced politicians but still, there has only been one divorced President, Ronald Reagan, and none since 1988.

In 2007, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey of potential voters to determine if they would, or would not, vote for a divorced candidate. Almost 9 in 10 stated that it made no difference to them. Yet more than half said that adultery would play a factor in their decision.

When divorced Republican Nelson Rockefeller ran for President in 1964, his second of three unsuccessful bids, he had a healthy lead in the polls over his conservative rival Barry Goldwater. During the campaign he married a divorcee with four children who it was learned he had been seeing for five years. The fact that Rockefeller had divorced his first wife just 18 months prior set off a huge scandal that would eventually cost him the campaign. So it appears that it was the unfaithfulness that mattered more to the voters, even during an age when divorce carried a social stigma.

While study results on infidelity vary, due in large part to a reluctance to speak about it, the general consensus is that about half of all men and women, including the spouses of the person cheating, are involved in extramarital affairs. That’s about one out of every 2.7 couples. And yet a 2009 Gallup Poll showed that 92% of Americans believed that infidelity is morally wrong.

History is riddled with political infidelities. Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Thomas Jefferson were all unfaithful and yet each are now viewed as successful statesman. Most recently, Newt Gingrich launched an unsuccessful Presidential campaign bid despite being twice divorced and an admitted adulterer. He went on to sign four separate “No-Adultery” pledges in an attempt to convince voters of his propriety. The first three were when he got married and the fourth was for an Iowa-based group known as “The Family Leader.”

So it stands to reason that we Americans don’t seem to mind if our elected officials are divorced but we do care if they cheat. Is this because we’ve become so accustomed to divorce that we no longer see it as a moral issue? Is it because so many of us are divorced that we have a great empathy for those who also go through the painful process? And in the case of the accusation by Edward Klein of the Obama’s marital struggles, should we see their overcoming a hurdle as a commitment to their marriage vows or, as the author inferred, proof of a relationship that isn’t as it seems?

About The Author

David Pisarra, Esq. heads the Santa Monica-based family law firm of Pisarra & Grist and Men’s Family Law, dedicated to providing men the information and support they need to navigate the tumultuous waters of divorce. He has a weekly column in the Santa Monica Daily Press titled “What’s the Point” and is the author of four books on divorce. His most recent, “What About Wally: Co-Parenting a Pet With Your Ex” is the first book dedicated to the common issue of pet parents divorcing and the legal and dog behavior elements at play.

 

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