Swickard: The flaw in hating flawed leaders

Pat Garrett - Guts, Gumption and Courage
© 2015 Michael Swickard, Ph.D.  "The one thing I want to leave my children is an honorable name." Theodore Roosevelt
             There is a revisionist history move in the news which has been simmering for years but now has burst out in college campuses. Some activists want to remove many of our founding leaders from public buildings and revise our American history books because in today's world they all are scoundrels.
            Even more modern presidents like Theodore Roosevelt are legitimately under attack for their flaws. And all forty-three men who have taken the oath of office for the presidency are flawed. There are some flawed with graft, some with goofy ideas and some with being intentionally ignorant in times of crisis.
            This is not a black and white issue. We must view our leaders in a more mature way than these protesters are doing. There is a more compelling story about the founding leaders clear up to our leaders today: what did they do for the ages.
            That is the yardstick for me: what did these leaders do that others could not or would not such that we have the country we have today. Our country has brought freedom to other countries by example and by fighting wars, not for our own gain, but to insure freedom from dictators for other people.
            As to our founding leaders and the complaints currently about them: all of the leaders who founded our country either were slave holders or did not effectively resist the holding of slaves. That much is true. And we cannot change that flaw in them.
            Some people suggest we even change the name of our national capital because George Washington was a slave holder. The angels on earth who created liberty for much of the world were flawed humans. Yet through their actions we have our freedom today.
            But in the arena of public opinion there is an outcry to cleanse our national history of those who were flawed. And it is every leader we have ever had starting with the first ones during our Revolutionary War. It is a mistake to not consider all of each man.
            Thomas Jefferson is under attack and unable to defend himself. He wrote for the ages, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
            Yes Jefferson was a flawed man in that he had slaves. And with Jefferson there are other things. But one of the problems with revising history is can we do without the good just to punish the bad?
            There were arguably four men who were essential to the Revolutionary War: George Washington who brilliantly commanded the weaker American forces into ultimate victory: Samuel Adams who provided the man-on-the-street leadership in effective citizen resistance; Benjamin Franklin who got the French to side with our nation or we would not have won and Thomas Jefferson who provided the words for our new country.
            Alas, can we find anyone who is not flawed? My favorite modern person, Martin Luther King, Jr. was certainly flawed. Yet he wrote for the ages, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
            In New Mexico we falsely worship a rascal we call Billy the Kid and ignore a man, yes flawed, who is a hundred times more interesting historically and as a member of our state: Pat Garrett. He was flawed in some ways and a legend by his resolve and courage. He had gumption and guts and ran toward the problem not away.
            In no way do I advocate obscuring the flaws of our leaders. We see that Americans in general have a simplistic view of our presidents, "George Washington was the father of our country and a good man." That is a disservice to their sacrifices.
            We have had some bad actions by men in the Oval Office which should be known. But ultimately let's take a look at their entire effect upon our country.