A day before the voting begins in the Republican primary in my home state of Florida, I couldn’t help but think of the axiom, “to err is human, to forgive divine.” Voters in the politically twisted state of Florida will have to muster quite a bit of forgiveness where current Republican presidential hopefuls are concerned. Claims by Newt Gingrich’s second wife, Marianne Gingrich, he wanted an open marriage, and Mitt Romney for being evasive about releasing his tax returns has kept the press going for weeks. The voters in South Carolina, even women, found it in their hearts to forgive Gingrich and delivered a huge win for him in that state. It doesn’t look like the same thing will happen in Florida for Gingrich or exactly why he had such a stellar victory in South Carolina. The electorate is fickle but in Gingrich’s case, I think he was forgiven because he seems to the brightest in the bunch of very average Republican nominees. The changing polls during the primaries indicate the frustration of voters in the search for a good candidate. In the absence of a leader with a full range of admirable qualities, South Carolina voters overlooked Newt Gingrich’s character flaws in favor of his high intelligence.
But why do some politicians receive our forgiveness (and votes) and others do not? The reasons vary based on our past experiences and sometimes unwavering personal philosophies. Who really knows since forgiveness is very personal and arbitrary. We may decide a candidate’s ideas or what they symbolize trump some serious personal failings.
Good examples are Bill Clinton, who masterfully crafted the “it’s the economy stupid” message and was elected despite the Gennifer Flowers scandal. And still received high approval ratings after the Monica Lewinsky story broke. I, along with many others, thought Clinton was a good President and effectively governed despite being a serial cheater. I forgave him because I favored his democratic policies but disapproved of his infidelities.
Ronald Reagan inspired patriotism on the heels of terrible economic times in the late 1970s and even though he was viewed as “just an actor” and not that bright, he still achieved landslide victories in 1980 and 1984. He’s revered today as a political icon but no one seems to talk about the Iran Contra scandal. I guess all is forgiven, right? Nixon, though vilified and forced out of office, was later recognized for some big accomplishments such as opening relations with China. Time, death and charisma seem to ease the way to forgiveness.
Then there are other politicians (there’s a long list) who seem to be beyond forgiveness and have absolutely no redeeming qualities. Senator John Edward committing adultery and fathering a child with Rielle Hunter while his wife, Elizabeth, suffered with cancer; Congressman Mark Foley sending sexually explicit messages to teenaged House pages; and Congressman Gary Condit evading investigation amidst the desperate attempts to find missing intern Chandra Levy. Thank goodness their political careers are OVER.
Infidelity and questionable ethics are not the ideal traits of a presidential hopeful and we aspire for our elected officials have the full package— high moral character, political deftness and scholarly competence. But more often than not, candidates don’t have all the qualities we would like and we rely on forgiveness to elect our leaders. We are forced to make decisions as to who we elect based on which qualities we dislike the least. Good luck to my friends and family in Florida who might vote in the primaries tomorrow. You’ll have lots to forgive of the candidates on the ballot.