Candidates Offer Views On Infidelity

For the series "Primary Questions: Character, Leadership & The Candidates," CBS News anchor Katie Couric asked the 10 leading presidential candidates 10 questions designed to go beyond politics and show what really makes them tick.

For the fifth part of the special series "Primary Questions," Couric asked the candidates: "Harry Truman said, 'A man not honorable in his marital relations, is not usually honorable in any other.' Some voters don't feel comfortable supporting a candidate who's not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand their position?"

In a new CBS News / New York Times poll, two out of three registered voters said they'd vote for a candidate even if he or she had been unfaithful in marriage, as long as they agreed on most issues. One out of three said they would not.

Check out the complete poll results.
Also, check out the candidates' full responses to the previous questions in our "Primary Questions" video library.



JOE BIDEN

Couric: Harry Truman said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations, is not usually honorable in any other." Some voters don't feel comfortable supporting a candidate who's not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Can you understand their position?

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 gonna 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 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.

And I think that it's awfully hard to be -- have a pattern of dishonesty in relationships, married or otherwise, and be reliable in difficult circumstances where other people are depending on the veracity of what you say.

Couric: Should marital infidelity be part of the equation, in your view, when a voter is evaluating a candidate?

Biden: I think that's for every voter to decide. Voters make -- as they should -- make decisions relative to the leaders based on their needs. The need of the voter. And if you have someone who is, you need someone to be a great general to win a battle and he is a no-good guy, you'd never wanna show up for dinner. You might very well say, I'd vote for that guy to be the general. I'd vote that person or that woman to be the -- you know, the governor, or whatever.

I think people make very rational decisions based upon whether or not the character flaw in the individual they're looking at relates to something that affects their lives or the life of their country. And for some people, the overwhelming requirement, overwhelming characteristic they want is honesty. And that would be a difficult thing for ... the voter who has that as the highest priority, to vote for someone like that.

But it's an interesting thing. I remember asking ... one of the people who's ... a smart guy, is this guy Frank Luntz, who does these groups. And I remember hearing him speak and saying that the polling data shows that the characteristic -- he asked the question generically.

What characteristic do you think the American people most look for in their ... in their president? And I immediately said, honesty, integrity. In my mind. And he said, no, no. Then he asked the audience. And they said -- the simple most important thing they're looking for is resilience. Someone who can take a "hit" and get back up and move on. That's an interesting phen -- phenomena.

I've been in public life most of my adult life, and I wouldn't have said that. But ya think about it. It's probably one of those characteristics that gives people confidence that you can lead the country through what they know are gonna be ups and downs. But, so, that's a long answer to your short question.

Couric: Yeah. That's interesting.

Biden: I think that, for some people, if honesty, if the -- if absolute integrity of the character of a person you're looking for to be president is the criteria for you, then I think it probably matters a lot. If it is determining who can best drive this train right now at this moment, it may or may not be.


JOHN MCCAIN

Couric: Harry Truman once said, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Many people feel they don't feel comfortable supporting someone who's not remained faithful to his or her spouse. Should they feel that way? Or can you understand their feeling that way?

McCain: You know ... 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 ... 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 ... that's just frankly, a judgment that I leave to others.


BILL RICHARDSON

Couric: Harry Truman said, quote, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Many people say they don't feel comfortable supporting someone who's not remained faithful to their spouse. Why should they?

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.


BARACK OBAMA

Couric: Harry Truman said, quote, "A man not honorable in his marital relations is not usually honorable in any other." Many people say they don't feel comfortable supporting someone who's not remained faithful to their spouse. Why should they?

Obama: Why should they not --

Couric: Support someone who isn't faithful. In other words, people feel uncomfortable. Is that appropriate? Or, you know, how do you feel about that?

Obama: Well, I ... you know, I do think that public morality ... and private morality are not sum -- you know, or not equivalent. You know, we -- some of our greatest presidents haven't always been terrific husbands. And some who have been wonderful husbands have been rotten presidents.

So, you know, I think that other countries have typically taken a little more casual on approach when it comes to the personal lives ... of elected officials. And I think that there has to be some space for privacy. I will say this.

I do think that 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 I was -- had a wonderful marriage but didn't have good ideas in terms of providing health care 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 being president.

Couric: Should infidelity qualify someone, or should infidel ...

Obama: Disqualify.

Couric: ... infidelity disqualify someone?

Obama: You know ... I'm very cautious about applying strict moral rules to ... or a blanket universal rule 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.


HILLARY CLINTON

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 ... that is their perfect right to do so. But I think ... 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.

  • Katie Couric

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