While the search continues in Virginia for a Caucasian male over forty who didn't wear black-face while in college, and for a politician in the home of Thomas Jefferson who hasn't sexually assaulted a woman, Rumpole wonders where we draw the line on a person's youthful stupidity?
First, there is no comparison between the two sexual assault allegations against Virginia's lieutenant Governor and the black-face allegations against Virginia's Governor and Attorney General. There is no forgiveness for sexual assault assuming the multiple allegations are true.
However, in an age where youthful mistakes are digitally captured and stored forever, where do we draw the line between a successful adult and a stupid act twenty or thirty years ago?
Rumpole was not raised in the south. The offensive tradition of black-face is foreign to us. But apparently it is common among white Virginia college age men. It appears that the black-face parody is not so much (in current times) overt racism as much as it is stupid insensitivity to the suffering of African Americans for the first two hundred years of our country. BUT, the Rumpole critic roars in indignation, "if you were Jewish how would you feel about pictures of your Governor partying in college dressed as an SS Trooper?" "If you were Asian Rumpole, how would you feel about your Governor prancing around at a college party dressed as a Chinese "coolie" yelling "no tickeee-no-laundry"?"
Very badly, Rumpole admits.
But can people mature? Can we overlook certain moral failings in leaders who are otherwise historically good?
Would today's General Eisenhower be removed from command (and banished from public service) for the revelation of an affair with a young woman on his staff? #METOO would roar about the inequities of a young aid submitting to the sexual desires of a powerful older man who is her supervisor.
And what of General Eisenhower's superior? Would Franklin Roosevelt's presidential campaign have survived the revelation of his long-time affair?
Would President Johnson have been able as a senator to shepherd the first civil rights bill through the senate if his philandering ways had been revealed?
Who would have been President in 1962 and have had the courage to stand down his generals who were advocating bombing and invading Cuba- a certain preclude to nuclear war- if candidate John Kennedy's multiple dalliances with young women who clearly were not on equal terms of power with him had been revealed and he was forced to withdraw from the race?
Do we diminish Martin Luther King's accomplishments and moral leadership because he was not faithful to his wife?
Do we discount our Jeffersonian democracy because Jefferson owned and slept with his slaves?
In short, if we only accept leaders who are morally perfect in every way, are we defaulting to mediocrity? This is not to say that we should accept moral failings. This country was founded on the racist idea that certain humans (blacks) were three fifth's of a person. Our success is that we confronted our failings and rose above them (although it took way too long).
Who do you want landing your plane in a storm? A mediocre pilot who is faithful to his wife, or the best damn aviator the airline has who sleeps around on her husband?
Which surgeon do you want operating on you? The barely competent one who spent her college years tucked away in her dorm room, or the arrogant college jock who mocked Hispanics but matured into the most talented, kind, and caring surgeon who deeply regrets his actions and donates his time to doctors without borders to atone for his actions in college?
To put it in our terms, what about the wise judge who twenty years ago as a young lawyer struggled in business and ended up with a tax lien that took a few years to pay off. Should they be disqualified from holding office and instead should we have a wealthy, spoiled, and indifferent judges with no tax liens but also no common sense?
None of us are perfect. "Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone."
What worries us is not so much the leaders who we force to resign, as much as the future President Roosevelts and General Eisenhowers who never choose to serve because there is a picture of them at age 18 or 20 doing something offensive and stupid as 18 and 20 year olds are wont to do. Are we condemning ourselves to a future of mediocre but morally correct leaders? That is the worst tragedy of all.
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