Presidential Candidates’ Personal Lives Are Important

Maria Basileo, Photography Editor

Campaigns for next year’s presidential election started off with a bang this year as candidates began announcing their runs as early as January. Over 15 Democrats have thrown their hats into the race, including Senators Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren.

With the earliest caucuses and primaries set to take place in February of 2020, voters are in for months of mud-slinging and dirt-digging into the backgrounds of candidates from rowdy days in college to speeding tickets from 25 years ago. This begs the question: do these things even matter?

Former Vice President Joe Biden has yet to announce an exploratory committee, but that doesn’t stop pollers from stacking him up against real-deal candidates. He ranks the highest, superseding Sanders by 10 points, according to a Quinnipiac University study from March.

However, on March 29, 2014, Democratic nominee for Nevada’s lieutenant governor, Lucy Flores, accused Biden of giving her an unwanted kiss on the back of her head in a New York Magazine article.

He issued a statement on March 31 where he said he’s “offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort” during his career and that “not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately. If it is suggested I did so, I will listen respectfully. But it was never my intention.”

Back to my question: do these things matter?

I argue, yes. They do matter. A president isn’t merely a figurehead, but a leader who makes choices based upon the needs of the people. I would like to know the choices that person has made in the past in order to foresee and hopefully trust their future decisions.

Blunders are only half of the digging that needs to be done, though. I believe the public has a right to see the good things a candidate has done when no one was watching.

Sanders campaigns with anecdotes from his past activism, like attending Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech and participating in sit-ins to stop segregation at the University of Chicago, but they both happened over 55 years ago. Do Sanders’ actions while he was in his 20s validate his character now that he’s 77 years old?

If he hadn’t done anything since then, then I’d say no. But Sanders has been known to stand on picket lines with workers fighting for higher wages and introducing bills to stop U.S. intervention into wars, creating humanitarian crises. His past and present speak to his future policies.

Beto O’Rourke has been arrested twice; once for burglary and once for driving while intoxicated. Both have been dismissed and happened over 20 years ago. Are they important now that he’s a public figure?

I think it’s important not to demonize him, but to show the growth he’s made. He has never denied he was arrested and has expressed regret for his actions.

A counterargument – do you care what your doctor does when they’re not treating you – is frequently made when discussing whether or not voters find the private dealings of candidates important come primary time. Doctor’s personal lives don’t affect their performance as a doctor, so why should the personal life of a candidate affect their policy?

A doctor, I argue, deploys learnable skills from years of school and hospital residency into real-life scenarios. Politicians don’t go to school to form political policy opinions, but apply their logic to bigger issues. There isn’t a class to take to tell a candidate if signing a new international trade deal will be beneficial. It is only the candidate and their advisors’ opinions that reflect what they believe to be the right choice.

I want to know if my candidate had an affair just as much as I want to know if they saved someone from a burning car. Some say they vote for the policy, not the person, but no one wants to vote for someone they don’t like.