The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

November 16, 2012

Looking for the perfect leader

By Brian Graves, Staff Writer
SNAP

Friday, November 16, 2012 — If you read the following list of people in history what is the first thing you think about?

Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy.

The first thoughts would be these are historically relevant Americans whose place in history is assured because of the great, and sometime momentous, things they did for our country.

However, there are a few other words that can also apply to this stellar, American roll of honor.

How about adulterer or philanderer?

Well, if the historians who have written and researched extensively about these men aren’t totally wrong, those words apply to those five men.

Franklin was a member of the Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe which every summer hosted a “convention” made up of events of a very sordid nature.

There is the long-standing belief that Jefferson fathered a child with one of the slaves at Monticello — something the results of a 1998 DNA test said offered no other possibilities.

Roosevelt had an affair with his wife’s social secretary, Lucy Mercer.

While it has been debated for years, the autobiography of Kay Summersby, who was Eisenhower’s chauffeur during WWII, claimed there was a love affair between the two.

The picadillos of Kennedy have mostly been well documented and not denied.

So, what’s this all about, you ask?

These are five men who played an incredibly important role in the history of this country and the world, for democracy and freedom.

But, they found themselves lured to what was as true in them as it is in everyone — their humanity.

I have thought about this as I, as well as you, have watched the soap opera play out concerning the affair of former CIA Director David Petraeus.

This is a four-star general, a rank not easily or commonly attained in the military.

There is bipartisan agreement about his qualifications, his intellect and his solid service.

While all the facts are not known, he no longer uses those gifts and talents in the service of his country.

Why?

Basically, it’s because he had an affair.

He had one like Jefferson, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Kennedy.

Before you say, “Whoa!” let me quickly explain this is not a defense of adultry — not by a long shot.

It may have been just coincidence I was watching an episode of “M*A*S*H” just last week.

In that story, Col. Henry Blake received a letter from his wife saying she understood how hard the conditions were that her husband was serving under and how hard the constant stress and loneliness must be to deal with.

“What a wife!” Blake shouts with a smile. “I’m the only soldier whose wife has given permission to horse around!”

I thought about that when I heard the Petraeus story.

Here is a man who, for the most part of three years, has been a commander on the battlefield. He has lived under the harshest of conditions and been without the companionship of his wife.

Is what he did right? No.

Is it understandable such a weakness could be given into? Yes, it has to be.

The general is human and so were the other men listed at the front of this column.

Each were remarkable people and were important to the development and history of the country.

But, they too were human and prone to the weaknesses of humanity.

It makes for a fascinating game of “What if?”

What if one of the 24-hour news channels, which I think for the most part has ruined true journalism, captured the story of one of those historic figures at the time and chewed and chewed on this one failing?

The Constitution without its author, Jefferson.

World War II without Roosevelt or Eisenhower.

The Cuban Missile Crisis without Kennedy.

Would things have turned out as well as they did or would the world and country be a far darker and different place than we now know it?

Being there for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was an easy thing for me.

I felt he had disrespected the office he held and showed a lack of judgement needed for a strong commander-in-chief.

Unfortunately, his affair with Monica Lewinsky was not a crime of state and was not impeachable.

It was what he was alleged to have done to cover up his affair that breached the breaking of law.

However, the affair in and of itself, was not a breach of law.

The bottom line of all of this is we live in a world of “The Housewives of Blah Blah County” and “National Enquirer.”

We have a society that actually enjoys seeing someone of Petraeus’ stature be eaten alive by the 24-hour news cycle.

We just aren’t as serious about the really dangerous sins of the earth to be cautious about.

How many great and good  talents and minds have been shunned because they have been human just once?

It is a fool who thinks they will ever see a perfect person in any position of authority, be it president or pastor.

The degree of human failure can differ in all of us.

It’s just very important to remember that famous request from long ago:

“He who is without sin cast the first stone.”