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Presidential Performances Compared

Steven R.L. Millman

Well, by now you'd have to be in Biosphere II to have avoided hearing about President Clinton's alleged affairs with an intern barely older than his own daughter, a former Miss America and a couple of former state employees from Arkansas among many others. It seems like that the President must have inaugurated the White House on a room by room basis since taking office.

He finally admitted to having had an affair with Gennifer Flowers - something he's denied since he first ran for his high office - presumably because she can testify to the issue raised by Paula Jones as to any "unusual characteristics" on the President's favorite pop-up toy. Now that he knows his impeachable goose may be cooked, he's admitted to improper doings with Monica Lewinsky as well, although he claims it was not "sexual relations" as he understood the term. He gets a lot of flak for that position, but I'm inclined to agree. In my mind, sexual relations never involve a tobacco product until afterwards.

Of course, the media descended on this scandal in less time than it takes for a gumball to lose its flavor, and everyone is asking the question, "Who gives a #%&@?" I mean, rather, "Is this the final, impeachable, straw?" But a question that has gone unasked is whether our less discreet chief executives do a better or worse job for our country and its future. It's time to check the record. To answer this important question, we turn to Vital Statistics on the American Government and the American National Election Surveys, 19521996.

Over the last two-thirds of a century, we've had presidents who were randy to say the least. Bill Clinton's libidinous indulgences have now become legendary, but he certainly isn't unique among modern presidents. John F. Kennedy presided over a veritable White House of ill repute if you believe Seymour Hersh's new book, Dark Side of Camelot, but regardless of the faith you put in Hersh there's plenty of evidence pointing to Kennedy's indiscretions. It is widely believed that JFK had affairs with no less than Marilyn Monroe and also the girlfriend of a notorious Mafia boss.

Although less widely known, it is also well established that Lyndon B. Johnson and Franklin D. Roosevelt were sexual hooligans of no small measure. Johnson used to complain miserably that he wasn't getting nearly the credit he deserved for his womanizing compared to Kennedy whose exploits, Johnson believed, paled before his own. FDR even placed his mistress in a job at the White House as his wife's assistant so he'd have better access and then died in her arms.

Of course, we've also had a crop of decent, faithful, or at least discreet presidents since the 1930's. Truman, Ford, and Carter were above suspicion in this regard. Ronald and Nancy Reagan slept in separate beds, and Richard and Pat Nixon even slept in different rooms! While Dwight Eisenhower and George Bush were suspected adulterers before attaining the presidency, there were certainly no plausible allegations about this kind of misconduct while they were in office. All in all by this accounting, we've had 40 years of discreet administrations and 24 years of indiscreet ones out of the last 64. The table here gives us a clue as to which kind might govern better.

It is instantly clear that economic performance under our less inhibited presidents has greatly outperformed those of more modest drives. Economic growth as measured by the annual percentage increase in the gross national product (GNP) was over three times more vigorous under the indiscreet presidents. The national debt as a percentage of the gross domestic product (GDP), a debt measurement favored by economists, decreased in adulterous years and increased under faithful rule.

Unemployment followed suit, perhaps because the presidents were following FDR's example and hiring their girlfriends as a public works project. The same trend hold true for the number of people under the poverty line and the change in median family income - both better under the presumed adulterers. Finally, the American electorate seems to appreciate the economic performance provided by their sexually aggressive leaders. Sleazy presidents enjoy a four percentage point advantage when running for reelection, and ten percent more citizens trust the government in Washington to do the right thing when they know they have a president doing the wrong thing at home - or at a hotel, or in the Oval Office.

So, if we're all better off when we have a president who can't keep his zipper in the full and upright position (well, everyone's better off except the First Ladies), why can't we find a way to get past our puritanical roots and ignore their indiscretions? I want to be the first to call for an end to the vicious abuse of our most effective public servants.

If their wives can forgive them, we should certainly be able to follow suit, especially since their performance is so good (at least that seems to be the consensus among White House interns). Let's send the message loud and clear next election day and vote for the hound dog. How's this for an honest slogan: "Vote for [candidate's name]. More jobs, better economy, and tabloid sex scandals."

More money in my pocket and more entertainment for those lonely nights at home. Think of all the free pornography that the House of Representatives would post on the Internet. Maybe the next president, eager to appear like a womanizer for the economic as well as electoral benefits, will videotape his encounters so that Newt Gingrich could post them as quicktime movies! That'd get myvote!

In the final analysis, should we really be putting the affairs of statesmen over the affairs of state? Sure, its fun to have the special prosecutor and the press get all the sticky details for us - there never seems to be enough smut to fully satisfy our lurid need for scandal - but let's face it, wouldn't you rather have an adulterous president who does the deed to consenting adults than a faithful one who does it to the economy? Of course, that's just my opinion.