Can a Bad Parent Be a Good President?

What does it say about a man when his children aren’t willing to campaign for him?

Is it a private family matter, or a public measure of character?

Does being a good parent have anything to do with being a good president?

In the wake of news reports that Rudy Giuliani’s 18-year-old year old daughter and 21-year-old son from his second marriage to Donna Hanover would not be appearing on the campaign trail with their dad, the former New York mayor asked the press to respect his family’s privacy, and leave his kids out of it.

Rudy Giuliani isn’t asking people to vote for him for president because he was a good father. So does it matter if he wasn’t?

Of course, Rudy is not the only candidate in this race with personal problems he’d like to take off the table. Is there anyone who doesn’t have an opinion about whether Hillary should have stayed with or left Bill ? Is there anyone whose view of her isn’t shaped, at least in part, by that decision, and how we understand her motivations in making it? Fair or not, in Hillary’s case, the personal is political.

Of course, Rudy’s argument for privacy is stronger because it is his kids’ privacy as well as his own that is at stake. When you run for office, or marry someone who does, you make a choice to live your life in public. But kids don’t get to choose. If a parent isn’t using his kids publicly to say something about him or his qualifications, there’s generally no good reason for the press to drag them into a spotlight they haven’t sought.

But what if it’s not the spotlight the kids are avoiding, but their father? What if the problem is not the campaign, but the parent-child relationship? Ask any normal person whether it says something about Giuliani that his kids don’t want to campaign for him, and there’s only one answer. Of course it does. It tells you about his character.

My friend Annie always says that you’re only as happy as your least happy child. That’s certainly true for me: my children are the center of my life; and my relationships with them define me. Being their mother is the most important thing I do. It is, in the most fundamental sense, who I am.

But I’m not a politician, an occupation that is notoriously tough on parent-child relationships. The best politicians are out there every night of the week, raising money, in the community, meeting voters, doing interviews. They are not home supervising their kids’ homework. Washington D.C., is full of kids who grow up with absent parents, sometimes at great personal cost, because their parents spend more time doing our work than their own. It could be argued that we should be grateful for the parents' sacrifice, or at the very least, not punish them for having made it.

In the Giuliani case, the problem wasn’t just that the kids grew up in the spotlight, sharing their dad with the city, but also the painfully common one of living through their parents’ divorce, in their case an ugly and public one. In a country in which half of all marriages end in divorce, we no longer consider getting divorced to be a disqualification for high office. But how you get divorced, and how you treat your children in the process, is another matter.

The problem for Giuliani is that he had a terrible divorce. He announced he was leaving his wife on television. She responded with not so veiled suggestions of infidelity. His lawyer accused her of squealing like a stuffed pig, on Mother’s Day no less. The Mayor went to court to try to force his children to spend overnights with him and his then-girlfriend, against their wishes. He and his son are still working to repair their relationship.

The problem, in short, is not Giuliani’s kids, but him. It’s not what they’re not doing, but what he did to them, that is likely to be an issue in this campaign. You can leave the kids out of it, but he’s the man, and it’s on his head. And for many of us, it is hard to see Rudy and Judy doing the lovebird thing without thinking of the kids who paid the price.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was previously Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and was the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.

Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System,” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for

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