WWII was an existential threat to the United States and the world. A small coterie of world leaders emerged, men meeting the moment. All of them rising to the challenge. The war would have been won without them, but at what cost? And knowing of their flawed personal characters, would we have been better off without them?
Dwight Eisenhower was a mid-level desk bound general at the Pentagon when General George Marshall and President Franklin Roosevelt reached down and made him Supreme Allied Commander of all of the allied forces in WWII. It was Eisenhower's ability to work with the British and French and Canadian politicians and generals that allowed him to formulate the strategy that defeated Germany. Item: Eisenhower, arguably the most powerful man in the world, groomed and then had an affair with a much younger subordinate female- Kay Somersby, while leading the allied effort in North Africa and Europe. Would the world have been better off with a more mediocre but morally stronger general?
President Franklin Roosevelt led the United States out of a depression and then through World War Two. Leading a country through the waters of isolationism, and then navigating the egos of Stalin and Churchill, and making decisions that affected the lives of hundreds of millions of people world wide. He is arguably considered our second or third greatest president behind Lincoln and Washington. Item: FDR had numerous affairs while married to Eleanor, and he groomed his young secretary Missy LeHand for a sexual affair, including building a home on his estate that he intended to share with her once he was out of office. Would the world have been better if Wendell Wilkie had defeated Roosevelt in 1940, Governor Dewey had won the presidency in 1944 or if Herbert Hoover had won a second term in 1932 and continued the hands-off policies that led America into the depression?
You're suffering a massive heart attack. There is a world famous heart surgeon on staff waiting to save you. He regularly cheats on his wife. There is a mediocre heart surgeon who saves about 50% of the people he operates on. He goes to church every Sunday and has been married to the same woman for 20 years. Who do you want to try and save you?
How much should private moral character matter with public officials? The most brilliant bio-tech scientist is available to work on a Covid-19 vaccine. She is trans-gender and on her times off likes to attend sex clubs with 18 year olds. Or we can hire a 50 year old man who got straight Cs in chemistry and biology in college. But he teaches Sunday school. Who do you want to try and save the world?
There is NOTHING that excuses NY Governor Andrew Cuomo's alleged behavior with women. But he did a better job in the early days of the pandemic than the former president did. And if we had a choice on who could have been president during this last year, we would choose Cuomo, moral failings and all, over the last president. At least we would have had a leader who listened to scientists, would have told people from day one to wear masks, and would have been a leader. (Yeah, we know about the nursing home scandal. And we still pick Cuomo, so save us your nasty emails).
Would the world have been better off with Richard Nixon as president during the Cuban Missile crises or with President Kennedy, who regularly had sex with much younger women in the White House. Would Nixon have been able to stand down General Curtis LeMay who was advising a first nuclear strike on the Soviet Union?
Would all of you who voted for Bill Clinton in 1996 over Bob Dole change your vote if you knew Clinton would be grooming a young intern for sex in the oval office in the coming years?
We believe Wood Allen to be a genius. His movie Crimes and Misdemeanors is one of the best films of all time, examining the same moral questions we raise here. But based on what his personal behavior has been, we have chosen not to patronize his movies for the last 20 years. But knowing what we know, we would vote for FDR and Kennedy given the chance (we voted for Dole over Clinton so no problem there).
Henry Kissinger (former National Security Advisor and Secretary Of State in the Nixon administration for you judges under 40) famously said "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac".
We will end with this. Where ever you draw the line, we as a society do ourselves no favors by requiring that our leaders have higher moral standards then normal human beings do. People have affairs all the time. They are sexually indiscrete at various times in their lives. In college, before they understood the significance of the racist ideals it represented, they may have gone to a party drunk in blackface. Ted Kennedy cheated at Harvard. He cheated on his wife Joan. He was a great senator. What we -meaning Rumpole- does not want is a country and a world led by mediocre people who are morally acceptable. Give us the troubled genius anytime. Give us the great man or woman with all their personal failings, so long as they meet the moment and provide the leadership we need.
So sharpen up those pens and send us those nasty emails about what a sexist, racist clod we are, Just be ready to accept the mediocre surgeon when your heart stops beating.