This is what happens when you sling mud in that the public has started to get over the Camelot illusion of leaders being somehow different from the rest of us. With this change, the Nixon lament that when people look at JFK they see what they want to be and when they look at him (being Nixon) they see what they are, is the realization that the purported chasm between a JFK and a Nixon is not as wide as the public once thought and therefore we are becoming more forgiving or tolerant of our leaders’ humanness.
So went my remarks to the CBS News post As S.C. primary dawns, can Romney keep Gingrich at bay?
For me overcoming Camelot, which is the illusion that our leaders are somehow above the baser instincts that can and at times do govern our behavior here on planet earth, occurred during the Kenneth Starr inquiry into the extracurricular activities of Bill Clinton.
Recalling how Clinton, who met JFK as a young man in 1963, had seemed to follow a similar arc model to the nation’s top post I could not help but wonder why Americans were so willing to overlook Kennedy’s infidelities yet frown upon Clinton for the same shortcomings.
Granted, and while Kennedy’s liaisons occurred when the press feeding frenzy was limited to affairs of state as opposed to those of the presidential heart, the paradoxical equity of the question cannot be overlooked. While some might say that the major difference is that we the public did not hear about Kennedy missteps until long after he was gone could be a determining factor, the truth of the matter is that they both crossed the line of moral and perhaps even societal sensibilities.
This is an interesting question in light of the polls which show that despite having to deal with the random musings of an accusatory ex-wife, Gingrich firmly led and ultimately won the South Carolina primary on Saturday. It speaks volumes, especially since the contempt of not only Gingrich but the public towards CNN Chief National Correspondent John King for posing a lead question about open marriage at the debate was (and still is) palpable.
What one might reasonably conclude here is that as the public we have removed the last vestiges of the pixie dust from our eyes, and having rend the curtain of leadership illusion, now have a more mature and realistic view of those who seek the top job in the country.
This does not mean that we have inherently lowered our standards – because those who are in the position of leadership do indeed have to work to set an example but, what it does do is provide us with the insight to also be compassionate and therefore better able to measure the cut of a candidate’s jib beyond the superfluous and inevitable disappointment of any shortcomings.
After all, did JFK’s womanizing prevent him from effectively navigating the highly combustible October Missile Crisis? Would Americans have been more comfortable with Nixon as President at that time?
So what are your thoughts? Is Gingrich fit to lead and can he win the next Presidential election?