To be President of the United States, all that is technically required in the Constitution is that you be at least 35 years old, have actually lived here for fourteen years, and be a natural-born citizen of the United States. That’s it. That qualifies people like Gary Busey, Mike Boogie from Big Brother and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson to be President, and I’m sure they’ll all probably eventually run at some point.
In reality, however, there is another informal requirement: you have to be able to get away with nearly anything. Pretty much every President ever has gotten into some kind of scandal, but we’ve only actually ever gotten rid of one. Everyone else just skates by somehow and this list is celebrating that great American tradition.
5. Joe Biden calls Barack Obama a “clean and articulate” black man… and becomes Vice President.
What did he do?
On the very first day of his 2008 Presidential campaign – seriously, the VERY. FIRST. DAY. – Joe Biden said, “I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy, I mean, that’s a storybook, man.” He was talking about his fellow candidate Barack Obama. You can’t really do that.
Why was this bad?
If you’re an old white guy running against a young black man in the Democratic party, this is just about the last thing you want to say. The Democratic Party overwhelmingly gets the black vote in America, and so you need to do absolutely everything you can to make sure it stays that way – otherwise, you’re looking at a landslide during the election. Saying something like this during the Democratic Primary? You might as well just quit.
How he got away with it: By being Joe Biden.
America was collectively mad about this for two seconds until they remembered that he’s Joe Biden and he says shit like this all the time. In 2004, Biden, when talking to reporters, genuinely asked, “Who gives a shit?” In his first Presidential campaign in 1988, he quit after being accused of plagiarism in his speeches and because he ACTUALLY DID commit plagiarism in law school – where he still somehow managed to graduate 76th out of 85 in his class. After his wife died in a car accident, Biden said, “I liked to [walk around seedy neighborhoods] at night when I thought there was a better chance of finding a fight … I had not known I was capable of such rage … I felt God had played a horrible trick on me.”
It’s totally understandable that someone would feel so depressed after losing family members in a horrible accident, but keep in mind that he was a U.S. Senator when he was looking for these fights. A U.S. Senator was genuinely walking around “seedy neighborhoods” in hopes of getting into a fight…which is why we love Joe Biden.
We love the guy for being so honest and blunt all the time, which is why we forgave him for these comments almost instantly. Evidently, Obama did too, eventually picking him to be Vice President where Biden proceeded to say things like, “It’s easy being Vice President, believe me” and agreed with a representative who said being Vice President is “like being a grandparent and not the parent.” Most notably, Biden called the passage of the Health Care Act a “big fucking deal” at a live ceremony, because of course, he did.
That’s why we love Joe Biden.
4. John Edwards cheats on his dying wife, gets the mistress pregnant, lies to the American people about it for months and possibly commits several federal felonies…and faces zero consequences.
What did he do?
A better question to ask might be what didn’t John Edwards do? While running for President in 2008, John Edwards had a wife who was dying of cancer, Elizabeth, but that didn’t stop him from turning around and having a lot of sex with Rielle Hunter, who was on his staff. He got her pregnant and had one of his staffers say it was his kid for months while the campaign went on, while also getting funds from friends in order to pay Hunter to hide with the baby. A loving father indeed.
Why is this bad?
Well, for one, Edwards probably committed some felonies at some point…in fact, there was enough evidence for this that he was actually federally indicted on six felony charges. Secondly, he cheated on his dying wife and got another woman pregnant – for most people, even without the felonies, that would have been bad enough. Also, it just kind of makes it pretty clear that Edwards is an asshole.
How he got away with it: Through dumb luck.
Edwards really didn’t do anything special to get away with all of this. Somehow he just got really lucky. It was a perfect scandal of awful behavior that was successfully countered when nearly everything started going right for him:
It turns out Elizabeth Edwards was kind of a bitch. The book “Game Change” was released in which it was revealed that Elizabeth Edwards frequently berated the guy in private and was pretty mean to everyone. On top of that, she died, so she couldn’t really defend herself from the charges. (Side note: BoomPopMedia reviewed the movie, and we liked it.)
Andrew Young, the guy who originally said the kid was his, wrote a tell-all book called The Politician. Suddenly, instead of looking like it was Edwards taking advantage of Young, the roles were reversed, and it looked like Young was trying to cash in on the troubles of his former boss.
Federal law changed. The Supreme Court ruled in 2010 that SuperPACs (campaign organizations with unlimited money) were totally cool, so suddenly it was less clear if Edwards actually did something really bad. In fact, I’m pretty sure no one has any idea what is and is not legal in campaign finance now.
His trial was a circus show. In the history of criminal trials, Edwards’ was one of the most bizarre. Jurors started color-coding their clothing, and one juror even started flirting with Edwards, because why not? They ended up finding him not guilty on one charge and declaring a mistrial on all the others.
At this point, I assume some prosecutor said, “Screw it, I just don’t want to deal with this guy anymore. Let’s just drop all the charges.” That’s exactly what happened, and John Edwards walked away from an innocent man – who is now maybe even going to practice law again.
3. The Bush administration fired some lawyers for political reasons…so Bush hires one of Giuliani’s best friends, and everyone stops asking questions. Or something.
What did they do?
It’s not exactly clear who did what, but basically, the Department of Justice fired seven attorneys midway through their term, even after these attorneys had all been confirmed by the Senate. They then replaced them with new attorneys who didn’t have to be confirmed and I assume that Alberto Gonzalez, who was the Attorney General at the time, probably went into the Senate chambers yelling “PATRIOT ACT, BITCHES!!!” and giving the bird to whoever would forgot he was Alberto Gonzalez and mistook him for someone important.
Why is this bad?
It’s pretty clear that they fired these attorneys for political reasons, which you’re not really supposed to do. It doesn’t look like it was illegal because Bush probably did have the authority to hire and fire the attorneys as he pleased, but no one else had ever really done this. If you were about to face a federal investigation, you would probably like to know that the prosecutor is a reasonably fair guy and not a political hack.
How they got away with it: By hiring one of Rudy Giuliani’s best friends.
Alberto Gonzalez resigned, so Bush hired Michael Mukasey to replace him as Attorney General. By all accounts, Michael Mukasey is a legitimately good guy, but he also happens to be one of Rudy Giuliani’s best friends – so much so that Mukasey recuses himself from anything that has to do with Giuliani. When I think “apolitical,” Giuliani isn’t the first name that comes to mind.
I would love to have sat in on that meeting when they first suggested Mukasey. I imagine something like this:
Bush: All right, it turns out the Department of Justice is too political. What can we do?
Gonzalez: I’ll resign, and you should hire someone less political.
Bush: Rudy Giuliani is arguably the most political lawyer in the country – let’s hire one of his best friends.
Gonzalez: Uhh…Mukasey? Because he actually has outright said he wouldn’t even go after Giuliani – and this whole scandal is because the Department of Justice was picking on Democrats too much and not enough on Republicans. Are you sure that’s the message you want to send?
Bush: Yep, we’ll make it work.
Bush proceeded to nominate Mukasey, who breezed through his confirmation hearings. Once he was Attorney General, Mukasey got to appoint the woman who would actually investigate whether there was a crime committed and, unsurprisingly, his pick found that no one had actually committed any crimes. SHOCKER!
Mukasey proceeded to serve as Attorney General for a while after that, where he did some fun things like not commenting on whether or not he would recuse himself from trials involving Bernard Kerik (who was one of the police commissioners in New York City while Giuliani was mayor) and had his son go work for Giuliani’s 2008 Presidential campaign in a role that required him to fight Kerik’s defense, supposedly.
I think President Bush has a very different definition of “making things less political” at the Department of Justice than anyone else does, but no one got charged with anything, and Bush never got impeached or anything, so I guess he can pretty much just chalk it up in the win column.
2. Bill Clinton has an affair in the Oval Office, lies under oath, gets impeached…and wins his impeachment trial and then becomes one of the most popular Presidents of all time.
What did he do?
Towards the end of his rather successful Presidency, Bill Clinton decided to reward himself for presiding over a time of astounding peaceful prosperity by getting a blowjob from an overweight intern. Because what could go wrong? Evidently a lot. However, there is a bright side – just two months after the scandal, on March 27, 1998, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug for the treatment of erectile dysfunction. These two events have helped make the topic of sex, and language that describes sex acts more socially acceptable. In addition, the popularity of drugs like Cialis still continues to grow.
Why is this bad?
To be honest, this one might not have been that bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Bill Clinton had affairs all the time and was in the process of getting sued by another woman, Paula Jones. As part of that trial, Bill Clinton famously said that he had not had “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky. When Ken Starr found evidence to the contrary, Billy Clinton got charged with perjury and Congress impeached him. So yes, it was bad.
How he got away with it: By doing jack shit.
Clinton’s response to the scandal was essentially the adult version of sticking your fingers in your ears and screaming “NA NA NA BOO BOO STICK YOUR HEAD IN DOO DOO” over and over until the other person gets frustrated and goes away. Clinton essentially totally ignored the scandal – he didn’t talk about it in his State of the Union Address, he only half-heartedly admitted to his relationship with Lewinsky and never seemed to care about Hillary’s reaction. In fairness, neither did she, as she stated that “The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.”
Apparently, the American people felt the same way, because Clinton got some of the highest approval ratings of his Presidency during the scandal. The Senate wasn’t able to successfully remove Clinton from office, less so because Clinton was innocent and more so because people were pretty mad about the Republicans making such a big deal of it. It was also probably because, at the end of the day, with the economy doing well, no one really gave a shit.
Clinton went on to successfully finish his term, start a charitable organization, write two best-selling books on policy, and become one of the most popular former Presidents we’ve ever had. He also wrote a hugely successful memoir and, despite the fact that it’s like eight-billion pages long, barely even mentions the Lewinsky scandal. Clinton did, however, get a $15 million advance for the book as well as a Grammy award for the audio version, because, at this point, they might as well give him an Academy Award and the Nobel Prize in Physics too.
Hillary became a U.S. Senator and Secretary of State herself, so if either of the Clintons were actually hurt by this scandal, I’m missing it. Clinton himself apparently hasn’t even really learned his lesson and is still flying around the world chasing skirts or something.
1. Richard Nixon gets accused of taking money for political reasons and almost gets kicked off of Eisenhower’s presidential ticket…and spins it all into an attack on his opponents, becomes Vice President and later even gets elected President himself.
What did he do?
Nixon apparently had some political backers who helped him cover costs from campaigning, and this was called a “slush fund” by some of his opponents. Honestly, today that would be totally expected, and it would just be called “campaign funds,” but I’ve seen Mad Men, so I know that those days were different.
Why is this bad?
First off, pretty much all news was bad news for Richard Nixon since he always overreacted to everything and made it worse. Secondly, he was on a major party ticket that just had to avoid NOT LOSING. It was fairly clear Eisenhower would cruise to victory as long as there were no scandals, so a potential scandal was bad for Nixon as he could have pretty easily gotten thrown off the ticket. Finally, Nixon had made a name for himself by fighting corruption and shadowy influences in government – you know, the very things that the term “slush fund” makes you think about.
How he got away with it: By giving one of the most bizarre, but brilliant, speeches in American history.
If you didn’t sleep through every American history class you’ve ever taken, then you’ll probably remember a reference to the “Checkers speech” at one point or another. Basically, Nixon got on national television and way overreacted in front of 60 million Americans – and they loved it.
While Nixon probably could have just got up and said, “Hey, this really isn’t a big deal” and been fine, he wouldn’t have been Richard Nixon if he acted rationally. Instead, he got his wife and went on TV and read off an entire list of his finances. Seriously, he read every damn financial asset he had – including his insurance plans – in order to show that he wasn’t a rich man. If you’re asking, “What does this have to do with the money that was supposedly coming from other people?” then you’re thinking smarter than most Americans at the time who never seemed to realize that he spends most of the nearly 30-minute speech avoiding the actual topic.
That’d be like Bill Clinton writing a really long memoir and not taking about the Lewinsky scandal very much…oh, shit, we already covered that. Evidently, Americans have a type of guy we like to see in the Oval Office.
Nixon proceeds to give one of the most brilliant conclusions to a speech in history, where he somehow manages to screw over everyone but himself. He calls on the Democratic candidates for President and Vice President to read all of their finances on national television, despite the fact that he’s really the only one accused of a financial scandal. What this has to do with Nixon’s “slush fund” is beyond me at this point.
Nixon also asks the American people for their feedback and encourages them to telegram their support to the Republican National Committee. This seems like a harmless enough move, except for the fact that it wasn’t actually the RNC’s decision as to whether or not he should stay on the ticket. It was Eisenhower’s. Basically, Nixon forced Eisenhower into a situation where he couldn’t get rid of Nixon without pissing off both the RNC and the American people – despite the fact that Eisenhower TOTALLY HAD THE RIGHT to get rid of Nixon if he wanted.
Most notably, however, Nixon told one of the most famous stories in the history of American speeches. In it, he mentions that someone heard on the radio that his daughters wanted a dog, so someone sent him one, and they named it “Checkers.” Nixon explains that he really doesn’t give a shit if they want to say this was a political gift as well. He explains that since his daughters love the dog, they’re keeping it. Again, if you’re asking how this compares to getting financial support from shadowy sources, you’re on the right track, but no one else really seemed to care.
In fact, people loved the speech and dismissed the “slush fund” controversy entirely, largely thanks to the fact that Nixon had somehow convinced America it was actually more like adopting a puppy than corruption. And if you don’t like puppies, you’re not a good American. Nixon, of course, did get elected Vice President. Later, Nixon even got elected President himself but eventually had to resign due to corruption, because the American people love irony.