Should a president be judged by his sexual morals?
By Ana Veciana-Suarez
What is it with presidents and interns? I mean, really. It’s disgusting, alarming and inexcusable for the leader of the free world to prey on an intern, no matter how willing that young woman claims to be. Yet long before there was a Bill Clinton, a Monica Lewinsky and a cigar, there were midday swims in the White House pool.
Now, almost 50 years after John F. Kennedy’s death, a book released this week gives explicit and salacious details of an 18-month relationship between JFK and a college sophomore who worked in the White House press office in the summer of 1962. Once Upon A Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath by Mimi Alford is a sharp reminder that presidential character and sexual morals matter. This is particularly salient in an election year that includes a GOP hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has admitted to past adulteries.
Alford is now a 69-year-old grandmother and retired New York church administrator. In the book, she recounts how, after a few rounds of daiquiris, she lost her virginity in Jackie Kennedy’s White House bedroom. So began her affair with the president, which lasted until JFK was killed.
Alford provides some interesting tidbits: Kennedy never kissed her on the lips. He called her at college under the pseudonym “Michael Carter” and provided airplane tickets and a car service for Alford to visit. (Was that on the taxpayers’ dime?) During one of those visits, when Kennedy was in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, he told her, “I’d rather my children red than dead.”
Alford wonders if she could’ve resisted him. “The fact that I was being desired by the most famous and powerful man in America only amplified my feelings to the point where resistance was out of the question,” she writes. “That’s why I didn’t say no the president.”
In an interview with NBC, she reiterated the consensual aspect of the affair, telling Meredith Vieira, “I really think I was willing to do it.”
But how consensual can a relationship between a 45-year-old womanizing president and a teenage debutante be? Today, the intern might have grounds for a sexual harassment suit. The president might be impeached, a la Clinton.
Alford’s revelations paint a realistic portrait of a leader who has been elevated to a pedestal he may well not deserve. I certainly don’t want a president chasing a young woman when he should be focusing on the possibility of nuclear annihilation.
Some argue that a 50-year-old affair with a dead president who is already well known for his philandering does little but satisfy the prurient curiosity of the public. Some might accuse Alford of profiting from the myth of Camelot.
But Alford decided to write the book only after the affair was mentioned in a 2003 biography of Kennedy by historian Robert Dallek, and she confirmed it only when reporters tracked her down.
The discussion of Alford’s book, entertainingly heated on the Web already, should lead us to ask important questions about those we elect: Are a president’s sexual dalliances important? How does his morality affect his job? Are recklessness and self-indulgence automatic disqualifiers? And is it too much to ask a leader to be honest, decent and true to his wedding vows?
Some think that a president’s sex life has no bearing on his job in the Oval Office, but I belong to the camp that believes honesty and decency are not traits you turn on and off like a light. A president represents a country, a people. He stands for what we think is the very best in us. But a habitual adulterer who finds time for sexual liaisons with a college intern while the world is on the brink of nuclear war shows a disregard for the country he vowed to serve.