Wow, on tonight's "CBS Evening News," Katie Couric hits a nerve: Tonight's "Primary Questions" installment is about infidelity. Awkward! But reading through some of the responses, surprisingly touching. The general consensus seems to be that fidelity is important, and certainly goes to integrity, but people are human, and struggle with what they struggle with, and that it's not necessarily a make-or-break for a great president. No legendarily unfaithful presidents or presidential hopefuls are mentioned, but it sorta hangs in the air. Again, awkward!
ETP received a partial transcript of the tonight's segment, and here are some excerpts (edited a bit for clarity). Fred Thompson is the only one who takes it back to radical Islam; Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are the only ones who mention their actual spouses (well, Giuliani refers to "mistakes"); Hillary Clinton draws a distinction between the public and the private; John Edwards seemed to feel the strongest about fidelity as an indicator of presidential worthiness, calling it "fundamental" and about "whether you keep what is your ultimate word, which is that you love your spouse, and you'll stay with them." Excerpts below:
COURIC: Harry Truman once said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Some voters say they don't feel comfortable supporting someone who's not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand or appreciate their point of view?
CLINTON: Well, I can certainly understand why some people would feel that way, and-- and that is their perfect right to do so. But I think-- that would be a tough standard for most of American history to be able to meet, when we look at people who have made a big difference in our country.
I think there's more to someone's honor and integrity, and to their public service. I think sometimes we confuse the private and the public in ways that are not necessarily...useful. So, of course, it's a deeply personal matter that I take personally. But I think on the public stage, there are a number of people who have-- represented our country, led our country — accomplished great achievements on behalf of our country who might have some challenges in their personal life, but have made a great contribution.
COURIC: Harry Truman once said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Some people say they don't feel comfortable supporting someone who has not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand their reservations?
GIULIANI: Sure, I can. Absolutely. You know, they look the every single part of us. And the only thing I can say to people is I'm not perfect, you know? And I've made mistakes in my life. And-- and that -- not just in that area. In other areas and I try to learn from it. I try to-- I feel sorry about them. I try to-- I try to learn from them so I don't repeat them.
Sometimes I even repeat them and you-- you try again. I mean, you-- you-- so I have a, maybe a more generous view of human beings and a more generous view of life. I mean, it comes from growing up as a Catholic. I mean, we're all sinners. We're all struggling. We're all trying hard. We ask for forgiveness, and then we try to improve ourselves again. And I've-- relate to other people that way. Relate to the world that way.
COURIC: How important is the politician's relationship with his or her children?
GIULIANI: I think it's important. And it-- but, no more important than anybody's relationship with their children. There's nothing special about politicians' relationship or a lawyer's relationship or a news-- news anchors relationship with their children. Or a baseball player's relationship with their children.
It's all-- all the same as far as the relationship between a-- a parent and a child. Often, they're real complicated. Often, they're least understood from the outside. They're best understood from the inside. But, I don't think there's anything special about politicians' relationship with their children. Except maybe for a high profile person, and sometimes the problems that that creates.
OBAMA: Some of our greatest presidents haven't always been terrific husbands. And some who have been wonderful husbands have been (LAUGHS) rotten presidents... I'm very proud of the relationship I've got with Michelle. And-- the work and the value that I've put into it. And I hope it does say something about my character, the strength of my marriage. But, you know, if-- if I was-- had a wonderful marriage but didn't have good ideas in terms of providing healthcare for every American or repairing the damage that's been done to our foreign policy by George Bush, then-- my marriage alone shouldn't qualify me for-- for being president.
KATIE COURIC: Should infidelity qualify someone-- or should infidel--
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: Disqualify.
KATIE COURIC: --infidelity disqualify someone?
SEN. BARACK OBAMA: You know, I-- I'm very-- I'm very cautious about-- applying-- strict moral rules to-- or-- or-- or a blanket universal rule to-- to people. Because, you know-- I mean, there are some people who might say that the fact that-- you know, I indulged in-- drugs when I was young disqualifies me. I mean, there are a lot of ways that you can apply that kind of morality. What I'm always hopeful of is that-- people are-- judge our public servants based on their passion, their commitment, their public integrity, how they operate with that public trust. And, you know, if we start getting too-- sanctimonious about some of these issues then there aren't going to be that many people who are able or willing to serve.
ROMNEY: Well, I'm certainly faithful to my spouse, my spouse. Ann and I fell in love in high school. We-- really our lives revolve around each other. I'd rather be with Ann than any other person in the world. And-- if I have any extra time, I wanna share it with Ann. That's just the nature of-- of our relationship....I'm not gonna give advice to the American people in which aspects of a person's life they look at. After all, the president of the United States is gonna be under a microscope. He will be. The first lady will be. The whole family will be. Every mistake will be open to the world. In some respects, you respect the nation.
In some respects you represent an example to the children of America. So we're gonna get looked at in all sorts of ways. And I'm not gonna try and counsel the American people as to what to look at. I know they look at my faith, for instance. And I'm happy to have them do so. Some are critical. Some are positive. It's just part of the package. And-- take me as the-- the whole character that I am.
THOMPSON: Everybody's gotta make up their own mind about that. I think that you can evaluate a candidate any way you want to. It's a free country. There are a lot of things that go into it. When we elect a President, we're electing the leader of the free world. We're facing-- tremendous challenges ahead. I don't think we've come to terms with the nature of the threats against us, really in terms of-- of radical Islam and the things we've got to do and the threats to the economy with the growing retirement population, things that-- of that nature.
So, nobody's perfect. Everybody-- has-- weaknesses and has made mistakes one time or another in life. But everybody's gotta decide for themselves what they want to consider that go into making up. The leader is going to have to deal with these problems of the country.
COURIC: Harry Truman said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Some people don't feel comfortable supporting a candidate who has not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand their position?
EDWARDS: Of course. I mean, for a lot of Americans-- including the family that I grew up with, I mean, it's-- it's fundamental to-- how you judge people and human character-- whether you keep your word, whether you keep what is your ultimate word, which is that-- you love-- your spouse, and you'll stay with them.
COURIC: Do you think-- what-- what about people who use that as a way to evaluate a candidate? In other words, there have been a number of fine presidents according to some analysts...who have certainly not been sort of exhibited the greatest moral character when it comes to infidelity...I guess is what I'm getting at.
COURIC: So how important do you think it is in the grand scheme of things?
EDWARDS: I think the most important qualities in a president in today's world are trustworthiness-- sincerity, honesty, strength of leadership. And-- and certainly that goes to a part of that. It's not the whole thing. But it goes to a part of it.
COURIC: So you think it's-- an appropriate way to judge a candidate?
EDWARDS: Yeah. But I don't think it's controlling. I mean, I think that, as you point out, there have been American presidents that at least according to the-- to the stories we've all heard-- that were not faithful, that were in fact good presidents. So I don't think it controls the issue. But I think it's certain-- something reasonable for people to consider.
Update: The remaining candidates — Joe Biden, John McCain, Bill Richardson and Mike "Merry Christmas From In Front of My Inadvertent Cross" Huckabee — after the jump, courtesy of CBS News.
Primary Questions: Infidelity [CBS News]
Primary Questions Archive [CBS News]
BIDEN: Look, this is really dicey territory. Let me say it this way. I think that one's character, one's honesty, one's integrity-- is a habit of the mind. I don't think people can be-- dishonest in one aspect of their life, and compartmentalize it and be viewed as being honest in other parts of life.
If the tendency is to cut a corner. If the tendency is not to tell the truth, the probability is, that in a moment of crisis, where that person's interests are at stake, they're likely revert to the bad tendencies. If the habit of the heart and the habit of the mind is, that whether you're dealing with promising the parking attendant you're going to be back in 20 minutes. Or you're telling your wife something, or you are going to the nation and making a commitment.
There is-- habits are habits. And they all relate to, seems to me, how an individual values what they say as being important and relevant. Everybody makes mistakes. I-- I don't have a-- you know, I don't pass harsh judgments on people who make-- my-- dad used to say, very good people do very bad things sometimes. But it's more of whether it's a pattern or a mistake.
HUCKABEE: If you violate the promise that you made to the one person on earth to whom you're supposed to be closest to, and this vow was made in front of your families, your closest friends, and God, and you don't keep that, then can we trust you to keep a promise that you made to people you don't even know?
COURIC: Having said that, many people might argue, there have been a number of really fine presidents-- FDR, even Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy-- just to name a few...
HUCKABEE: I don't think it means that a person can't be a good president. Obviously, there have been some great presidents who had personal issues. I think that's going to be true of all leaders. Nobody's perfect. Nobody. Me-- anybody else. We all have flaws. One of the things that I think I've learned most about life-- particularly from my experience of having been a pastor, is that the people that you think are the best people on earth? Well, they've got some secrets sitting in there, about some pretty dark spots.
MCCAIN: You know, that's-- that's an area that I never get into. Because I think that people make judgments, and you can judge other people. I'm not very good at that. And so, I think it's up to each person's personal view of the individual, and-- and everybody has a different view. I say that because you and I know that there have been some leaders in American history-- latest information about Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I happen to still think that Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an important president at a time in our history when we needed some courage. And so, it's-- that's just frankly, a judgment that I leave to others.
RICHARDSON: Well, I think this is ... if you're -- if you're not faithful to your wife, you're not faithful to the country, to your ideals. You're not faithful to the spirit in which Americans trust their political leaders. And they expect them to ... have a sense of honor. Nobody's perfect. I've been married to Barbara for 35 years. We've had our differences, our difficulties, but we've stayed together. But I think being faithful is ... an essential component of any relationship. It's whether a voter can trust you to ... be thinking about the common good as opposed to personal ambition or anything else.
COURIC: Do you think infidelity is reason enough not to vote for someone?
RICHARDSON: I don't think so. I think that, you know, infidelity is ... a serious problem in any marriage. But, you know, everybody sins. And it's whether you're forgiven, whether you forgive yourself, whether you have faith in God. You know, perfection ... is something that politicians, they should not stand themselves for perfection. Nobody's perfect. I've been married to Barbara for 35 years. We've had our differences, our difficulties, but we've stayed together. But I think being faithful is an essential component of any relationship. It's whether a voter can trust you to-- to be thinking about the common good as opposed to personal ambition or anything else.