This column was written by Noemie Emery.
Would social conservatives accept a candidate who was semi-estranged from two of his children? The question arises because of reports that Rudy Giuliani is not on the best of terms with his son Andrew and daughter Caroline.
The answer is that indeed they might, as they already have, many years earlier. Does the name Patti Davis ring bells? The girl who ran away with a rock star to defy her father; who changed her name so she wouldn't carry the name of her father, and who later wrote two books — or three, it's hard to remember — that were both a Mommie-and-Daddy-Dearest, dragging both her parents over hot, glowing, coals? Estrangement barely begins to describe this. And there was her brother, who went from a career in ballet to a pseudo-career as a political commentator, a job that consisted of tearing down his father's beliefs and his party, to the continued delight of his liberal audience. Did you say estranged?
But compared to the horror show involving the children of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Reagan saga seems fairly restrained. One son left the family orbit completely, and the other three became public embarrassments "Two sons worked for their father's bitterest enemies, and another married into a family that openly despised him," writes Doug Wead in "All the Presidents' Children". "One lobbied against parts of his legislative program in Congress. Another endorsed his father's opponent when he ran for a third term." A son-in-law killed himself. A daughter-in-law tried to commit suicide. Some of the sons wrote gossipy books that accused their parents of neglect and adultery. Hostility toward their father (and mother) ran through these siblings' careers.
Not all presidents, of course, had these terrible stories: Theodore Roosevelt, with his two happy marriages and six doting children was the picture of Victorian family values, and the Trumans, Bushes, and Fords, among others, were known for their family ties. But children of politicians do tend to have problems, as do those of other celebrities: Their fathers have oversized egos, which overwhelm and intimidate others around them; they have other commitments; they are workaholics, they aren't often home. Sometimes, their children don't seem to interest them: There is the story of a grown FDR son who had to make a formal appointment to talk to his father about a personal problem, as the son started talking, the president picked up a paper and started to read. Reagan and Roosevelt, who communicated immense warmth to unknown millions they never met face to face, were remote and distant from those closest to them, their children included; why, we don't know. Does this speak well of them? Hardly. Should it have kept them from serving as president? Ask the millions free now because of their efforts; and judge.
By Noemie Emery