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Should America prefer a president with major personal faults?
shmuley boteach
Should America prefer a president with major personal faults?
In the growing acrimony between the Republican presidential front-runners, Mitt Romney recently contrasted his own, nearly perfect personal life with the messier life of Rudy Giuliani. "It just drives me nuts, I have to be honest with you, when politicians get up and talk about their personal life and then say, 'Oh, everybody makes mistakes,'" Romney said. "Well, everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody asks to be president of the United States." Should politicians have perfect personal lives, or should we accept their flaws as the price of their humanity? There are two kinds of people: those for whom life is relatively easy and those for whom life is a perpetual struggle. Those who have been blessed by God, amid hard work, with financial and personal success, and those for whom those successes come with blood, sweat, and tears. Governor Romney is seemingly blessed with being part of the first group. He married his high school sweetheart and, amid the challenge of his wife's multiple sclerosis, has an ecstatic marriage, well-adjusted religious children, and is a man of extraordinary wealth. I am happy for him. No doubt he exerted great effort in achieving such near-perfection. But by and large, his story is an anomaly. The vast majority of Americans struggle to keep their marriages happy, struggle to raise good kids and struggle to make ends meet. I believe in struggle. Not only because I have had to struggle for most things in life - from overcoming a painful childhood, to overcoming insecurity and character flaws, to the constant struggle of supporting a large family - but because struggle calls upon us to fight for what is valuable to us. I HAVE seen many people for whom, like Governor Romney, life seems to have been less challenging. Yet, amazingly, I have rarely been jealous of them. Given the choice, I would choose to struggle. When I struggle to put my wife first amid my own predilection to selfishness, I demonstrate just how much she means to me. When I struggle to share my tortured emotions with the woman who is my soulmate, I demonstrate how I wish her to be my intimate companion. In a previous age men would battle dragons in order to win the hand of the fair maiden. In our time, men can demonstrate a far loftier devotion, battling their own inner demons on behalf of the women they love. Some of my former Oxford students went on to make hundreds of millions of dollars on Wall Street. But I continue to eke out a living, for the most part, writing essays and books, with varying degrees of success. It is hard work. But it means that every word I write that puts my children through school becomes that much more valuable to me. I have not been blessed with any real business acumen. So supporting my family has always been a struggle. Likewise, raising my children has been accompanied by the significant challenge of not wanting to impart to them my own considerable shortcomings. I have never wanted them to have my anger. I have never wanted to them to absorb my lack of structure. I have wrestled with my nature to cure myself of defects so that they not become a family heirloom. My kids are perfect, but I am not. And raising them, while an indescribable joy, is also a herculean effort. I do not believe in perfection. Indeed, it is a concept that has little appeal to me. Let angels sing in the heavens. Let gods tinker with humans on earth. I choose my humanity over divinity, my ability to rise above deficiency over my ability to cure myself of all flaws. For if I ever did become perfect, I no longer would have to fight for what's right. And my righteousness would thereby become nothing but testimony to my own mediocrity. Thank God I am married. But many of my family members and close friends are divorced. Their failure at keeping their families together breeds in me not arrogance, but humility, not judgment but compassion. I know that but for the grace of God, there go I. I suspect that Giuliani did not get married intending to divorce, just as Bill Clinton did not marry intending to cause pain to his wife. Both married from love and probably intended to remain in that blissful state. But life does not always go according to plan - which is not to say that we are not responsible for our actions or our failures. It is to say that, as humans, we do not always live up to our highest ideals. AND WHEN we fall, the message we must impart to the fallen is to keep struggling. I greatly admire the fact that the Clintons never abandoned their marriage. To those who would say theirs is a marriage of convenience, I would retort that theirs is, as Samuel Johnson once said, the triumph of hope over experience. At this stage in our country's development, we could probably do without the perfect people looking condescendingly at us mere mortals. People are in enough pain from their failures. Rubbing failure in their face is probably not the best way to inspire them to battle on. On Shalom in the Home I travel around the country and try and rescue families in crisis. That I have had any success is a testament to my finding in them not the crumbling potsherds of a broken life but glittering sparks of radiant heroism. While some see in these broken families people who are failures, I see individuals who love their families enough to risk national exposure in an effort to heal the pain and fasten together the fragments of family life. Long ago, at the beginning of creation, God made angels and men. The angels were perfect. They never divorced, they never fought, and they never cheated on each other. But God found them unimpressive, seeing as they had no fight in them. Goodness came naturally and it made them predictable. He placed His hope, therefore, in men and women who display grit and courage in a lifelong battle for the defeat of darkness and the triumph of light. If the Romneys of this world will forgive us our flaws, we promise to forgive them their perfection. The writer's upcoming book is The Broken American Male… And How to Fix Him. He recently launched "The Jewish Values Network."
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