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Ken Burns’ remarkable series on the Roosevelts makes it clear that Franklin D. Roosevelt never would have passed the Gary Hart adultery test.
Would that have been good for America?
As Burns’ series was ending, The New York Times published a story by Matt Bai on the scandal that ended Hart’s 1988 presidential campaign – and how it “forever changed American politics.”
Surely, Hart was no FDR. But Hart offers this might-have-been: He might have beaten George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush might not have become President “and we wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. And a lot of people would be alive who are dead.”
Bai reconstructs the story that shifted the goal of political journalists from being well-connected insiders who knew Presidents intimately (Teddy White, James Reston) to being truth-telling investigators who brought down Presidents, or at least presidential candidates (Woodward and Bernstein). Which led to bad boys whose careers were shattered (John Edwards, Eliot Spitzer) and those who survived (Bill Clinton) and those who came back (Mark Sanford).
Yes, we want to know the character of the men (and women) who want to be President – or any elected official. But, if you’re going to indulge in the alternative history of a President Gary Hart, consider an alternative history in which the press corps kept FDR out of the White House.


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