As children, we play “Follow the Leader.” As adults, we occasionally play “Follow the Playboy” because history shows us that imperfect men can lead.
Many pioneers in their field were brilliant men who made big mistakes. Alexander Hamilton—America’s founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury—had an affair with a married woman while he was married to the amiable mother of his eight children. King David—a biblical leader who received a special covenant from God—committed adultery with Bathsheba before he repented and passed his throne to Solomon. Tiger Woods—the Masters’ youngest winner and a 14-time major champion who inspired countless athletes for over three decades—lost Elin Nordegren through his adultery.
We view these three men (and many others) as leaders because of their contributions to society, distinct from their moral flaws. Despite weaknesses, each man used his unique talents to lead in his field. These men didn’t publicly flaunt their playboy lifestyles à la Hugh Hefner and their mistakes are therefore instructional rather than influential.
Everyone has his or her own vicious tendency such as anger, covetousness or sloth. And, everyone has distinctive talents. We all have the ability to control our impulses and lead in a particular sphere (such as public policy, religion, education, science or athletics) that channels our unique talents.
Let’s say someone has a bad habit of spouting off like a South Park character but he also possesses qualities like patience, high energy and creativity requisite for teaching young children. He can become an excellent role model for children if he focuses on exercising his talents and controlling his language in the classroom.
On a political level, if a presidential candidate has a reputation (real or perceived) for being a distracted playboy, we shouldn’t automatically assume that he wouldn’t control himself if he becomes president.
When asked about his past personal life, which is tainted with repeat infidelity, Newt Gingrich told Fox News: “I have reconciled and asked for forgiveness from God.” In the case of Gingrich, voters need to decide whether he means what he says. In the case of Herman Cain, voters need to weigh his alleged past behavior towards women against his overall and current record of behavior towards women.