Is it possible to be a good leader but not a good person?
Does a person have to be of near-perfect moral character to be a good mayor, governor, or President?
How about military leaders?
I ask this question in light of on-going revelations about shortcomings in the personal lives of public or elected officials, which have nothing to do with the way they do their jobs.
Certainly, if a person’s transgressions rise to the level of criminality, that’s a different thing. Or if the person with the personal shortcomings is a religious figure, whose very life is supposed to be an example of righteousness.
But if an elected official is unfaithful to his or her spouse, or is found to be engaging in what some people would call an “alternative lifestyle,” should these revelations automatically mean the end of a person’s political, public or military career?
Former President Bill Clinton got in trouble – not for carrying on with an intern, which is what he should have gotten in trouble for – but for not being entirely truthful to a federal grand jury. But if any of us were on a witness stand, and were asked whether or not allegations of personal failings were true or false, might not we all be tempted to fudge the truth?
Our history is full of stories about great leaders who were not exactly paragons of morality. FDR and Eisenhower, supposedly both had affairs while they were President. Thomas Jefferson is alleged to have fathered children by one of his slaves. If these facts had become known when these men were still alive or in office, they might have been forced from office or publicly shamed. What purpose would that have served?
General George Patton was an egomaniac but still, he was a brilliant military leader. Should his personal excesses have out-weighed his value as a battlefield genius?
I wonder if it isn’t time we all grew up and said, in situations such as these: “Look, I don’t like you or what you do in your personal life. But you know what? That’s between you, your family, and your conscience. As long as it’s not illegal, as long as you’re not taking money out of the public coffers to fund your activities, and as long as it doesn’t affect the work you’re doing on behalf of the voters, the employees, the soldiers, or whomever, it’s none of my business.”
Life is not as black and white as we might like to believe. There’s a lot of grey involved, sometimes. And sometimes throwing out a good leader because of personal short-comings, is a lot like throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Neither one makes sense.
That’s this week’s editorial.