Hart, Clinton have turned adultery into a non-issue


I think it may be time to forgive Gary Hart for his sins.

I think so because I have almost forgotten what his sins were.

He ran for president a couple of times, but you can't hold that against a man forever.

And now a newsmagazine reports that next year he might run for the U.S. Senate from Colorado, a job he held for 12 years.

(In 1984, Hart won 29 primaries and caucuses and narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for president to Walter Mondale, who asked him, "Where's the beef?" Mondale is currently a U.S. ambassador, but nobody knows to where.)

Hart gave up his Senate seat to run for president for a second time in 1987, but his campaign was derailed by accusations of adultery.

Just one presidential election later, however, Bill Clinton was also accused of adultery. And he overcame it easily.

It is instructive, therefore, to compare what the same accusation did to both men:

In May 1987, Hart was accused by a newspaper, who conducted a stake-out of his home, of having committed adultery at least once with Donna Rice.

In January 1992, Bill Clinton was publicly accused by Gennifer Flowers of having had a 12-year affair with her.

Neither man denied being an adulterer.

Clinton, appearing on "60 Minutes," was asked if he ever had extramarital affairs.

"You know, I have acknowledged wrongdoing," Clinton said. "I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage."

Causing "pain" could mean anything from fooling around to forcing Hillary to listen to his speeches, but it was pretty clear that Clinton was admitting to adultery.

On May 6, 1987, Hart held a press conference to answer the accusations against him.

But when he was asked directly if he had ever committed adultery, he replied: "Um, I do not have to answer that. Because it gets into some really fine definitions."

Most people thought adultery was one of the easier words to define, however, and Hart dropped out of the race two days later.

But on Dec. 15, Hart re-entered the fray. ("Miss September consents to be his running mate!" David Letterman reported.) And Hart took the opportunity clear the air regarding the accusations against him.

"I won't be the first adulterer in the White House," he said.

And while that might not have looked bad on a bumper sticker, few people thought much of it as a presidential platform. (Hart's best showing came in Puerto Rico, where he got 7.5 percent of the vote.)

Bill Clinton did much, much better.

While admitting to adultery (or at least to "pain"), he continued to deny he ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.

On "60 Minutes," Clinton described his relationship with Flowers as "very limited," then "friendly but limited" and then called her "an acquaintance, I would say a friendly acquaintance."

Gary Hart continued to deny having had sex with Donna Rice, who was labeled in the press as a "party girl." Rice said she wasn't one and pointed out that she was a Phi Beta Kappa from the University of South Carolina, apparently believing the two were mutually exclusive.

(Rice, who is now Donna Rice Hughes, is currently an anti-pornography crusader who testified before Congress last month in favor of a law banning obscenity in cyberspace.)

Both men, therefore, employed the same tactic: Admit to being an adulterer, but deny specific acts of adultery.

The results were decidedly mixed, however.

After 114 days, Hart dropped out of the presidential race for a second time and returned to Colorado to practice law. He is now a radio talk show host in Denver.

Bill Clinton went on to become president of the United States.

And who takes the credit for putting him there?

Gary Hart.

"I carried away the burden of scandal," Hart said.

It is Hart's belief that America feels so guilty over what happened to him that accusations of sexual impropriety can no longer be used to destroy a politician's career.

So does this mean Hart can get elected to the U.S. Senate?

I am not sure.

But I do know it would make Bob Packwood feel a lot better.

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