“Great men are seldom good men.” It’s a cliché, but some clichés become clichés because they are true.
Mohandas K. Gandhi was kind of a creep, sleeping nude with attractive young women, usually family members, purportedly as a test of his chastity. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was pretty rotten when it came to women. Thomas Jefferson seems to have amused himself by raping a 14-year-old slave. John Kennedy, Augustine, Mohammed — none of them were exactly exemplary in their personal lives.
The situation is not very different among men who are merely famous. The catalogue of rock-’n’-roll pedophilia, from Jerry Lee Lewis to Iggy Pop, is as long as KISS’s discography, and as predictable. (I consider some of that in the current issue of National Review.) Writers? Don’t even get started on that bunch. Hollywood? Anybody really think Harvey Weinstein is the only Harvey Weinstein out there?
In the case of great men, we have to consider their careers whole. Gandhi had some very weird personal habits and a lot of very stupid ideas about politics and economics, but he was right about his One Big Thing. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., too. We are lucky that Jefferson wasn’t as influential as he might have been among the Founding Fathers, given that he harbored some truly insane political ideas. It’s a difficult thing to do, which is why good historians and good biographers are so valuable.
Happily, in the case of Senator Al Franken, we don’t really have to do very much of that. He’s a putz. He was a putz before that leering picture of him groping a sleeping woman came out. Some of our Democratic friends have been reconsidering their apologizing and excuse-making for Bill Clinton. (More joy in Heaven and all that — but the timing sure is convenient.) If it is the case, as Matthew Yglesias argues, that Bill Clinton should have resigned in disgrace over his gross but consensual exploitation of a young White House intern, what should Franken do?
What says the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota? Are we to take them seriously, or not?