Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Officials Learn Infidelity Is Still a Career-Stopper Public Bemoans More Leaders Snared in Web of Adultery

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Officials Learn Infidelity Is Still a Career-Stopper Public Bemoans More Leaders Snared in Web of Adultery

Article excerpt

This spring public figures all across America have been learning, often to their regret, about the power of their own pasts.

Marital indiscretions from long ago have rebounded against everyone from a top candidate to head the US military to a Georgia gubernatorial hopeful. Meanwhile, Paula Jones has won Supreme Court backing to pursue her harassment case against Bill Clinton - while the president's lawyer threatened to make Ms. Jones's own sexual history a legal issue.

The result has been a national examination of morality and the cleansing properties - or lack thereof - of time. Is adultery committed a decade ago still relevant? If so, is it grounds for destroying a career? And should the military treat philandering more harshly than civilian society? It's a debate made more complex by such things as the unique structure of military hierarchy and the use - some would say manipulation - of the media by aggressive attorneys. "It's your own sense of probity and relevance" that should serve as a guide to answering these questions about people's pasts, says William Bennett, "The Book of Virtues" author. "There are no rules for relevance." Adultery is somehow an old-fashioned word evoking Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter," but Americans still take it seriously. Overwhelming majorities of US citizens tell pollsters that they disapprove of cheating on a spouse. Some 75 percent of respondents to a recent National Opinion Research Center survey said that adultery was wrong, up from 69 percent in the early '70s. But public disapproval of adultery isn't matched by a desire to see offenders in the dock. Prosecutions are extremely rare, even though the act is a crime in half of US states. Georgia gubernatorial hopeful Mike Bowers - who admitted to his own extramarital affair last week - points out that in his 16 years as attorney general, no Georgian was even charged with adultery. Against this background, it's easy to see how the spate of high-profile adultery accusations has raised contradictory impulses. Most Americans believe such acts are wrong - but were perhaps surprised by the tenor of the military's response. …

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