Those who thought the question of philandering is irrelevant tended to be women who were deeply involved in the political aspects in the feminist cause. For them the important matter was getting feminist positions into the party platform, or getting the ERA passed, and so forth. They felt that in judging a politician, they should look at his record on feminist issues. Kennedy's record, from a feminist point of view, is quite good. The attitude of most "politically minded feminists" I talked to was that they could not afford to consider such subtleties as what Kennedy's personal habits may reflect about the depth of his commitment to women's rights. As they pointed out, no one in the presidential lineup could be described as passionately committed to the feminist cause.
Those who thought the issue was significant tended to be involved in the philosophical side of feminism. To represent this group, I will record one comment that captured many facets of the general reaction: "It makes me very wary," said a woman who is a well-known writer on feminist issues. "The fact that it has been overlooked must be a sign of how much we want to believe in him. It's the sort of philandering that concerns me; if they were long, deeply involved affairs, I would react differently. This sort suggests that he does not respect women. It suggests that he is immature. I have figured one thing out. I've figured out that I don't think Carter is so terrible. After all, he didn't bomb Nicaragua, if you know what I mean. I recently had dinner with some big Harvard types, and they were raving about what a great guy Kennedy is. I just sat there, I couldn't get up the nerve to say that I didn't like him because he screwed around. But now that you bring it up, I think my decision about Carter was made on just this point." This interview was atypical in the clear decision against Kennedy and for Carter. Most others in this group said that although philandering was definitely a minus, they were considering supporting Kennedy in view of his assets and in view of the competition. Fear of damaging a candidate who might on balance be the one they favored was a big factor in the reluctance to come out publicly and strongly about their distaste for Kennedy's sexual reputation.
At this point there is no way of telling whether Kennedy's philandering will turn into an issue with a specifically feminist cast, because so few feminists have thought it through yet. I wonder, however, if many women won't follow the last train of thought recorded above when they do get down to thinking about it. Like just about every other group that is left of center, feminists have, in this first flush of the campaign, a strong attraction to the idea of a Kennedy presidency. But there is an impulsiveness in this reaction that cannot be sustained throughout a long campaign. It's an impulsiveness that has as much to do with frustration and disappointment with Carter as it does with Kennedy's appeal. This impulsiveness has a very thoughtless, escapist side to it, an element of attraction to what is glittering and glamorous, to what is showy, to something that is surrounding with pleasant, vague memories and the magical possibility that the past can be recaptured.
, Media, Harvard University, Special Interest Groups, More