Jefferson and Clinton are still American

Recent DNA evidence has proven nearly conclusively that Thomas Jefferson fathered at least one child with Sally Hemings, one of his slaves. Reactions to this event have illustrated a contradictory truth about humans — we have an eternal need for heroes, but the search for them ultimately ends in futility. Rather than expecting one person to be perfect in every way, we must remember heroes are human too. They may be highly successful in one way, but are never flawless.
The DNA test, which compared the Y chromosomes of Jefferson’s descendants with the Y chromosomes of Hemings’ descendants, found almost total similarities between the two sets. This recent information is certainly not the only evidence that researchers have found. A strong physical resemblance between Hemings’ offspring and Jefferson has long been recognized. Research into the affair has been conducted for almost two centuries. It began around the time of Jefferson’s successful run for the presidency in 1803, with an attack from his political opponents who claimed Jefferson had fathered children with a slave.
Despite the overwhelming evidence now available, some historians still refuse to accept the conclusion that Jefferson was involved in such a sordid affair. Most of these historians have long maintained that Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and architect of the Louisiana Purchase, was a true American hero. Acknowledging a relationship between Jefferson and a slave leads to many unpleasant questions that will prove uncomfortable for admirers of Jefferson.
These realizations about Jefferson closely parallel the current situation in which President Bill Clinton finds himself. Most have accepted that, like Jefferson, Clinton made immoral decisions. Yet we remain as unsure of how to react to the Clinton scandal as we are to the news about Jefferson. Should we denounce him as a horrible leader? Should we shrug it off, saying, “nobody’s perfect?” Or should we try to find a middle ground?
As is often the case, the middle ground is the best choice, for both Clinton and Jefferson. What Jefferson did was wrong, and what Clinton did was wrong. That does not mean, though, that they should be unequivocally condemned. Jefferson was not perfect, but his many accomplishments still benefit our nation. Likewise, Clinton has made mistakes, but they do not override his successes.
Problems arise when we expect infallibility from our heroes. Such expectations can never be met. Everyone has some dirty little secret, some worse than others, but no one is perfect. Rather than expect our heroes to be paragons of virtue, we would be much healthier if we could admire the excellence of an individual and place behind us the inevitable flaws.
Our political leaders are not elected to be moral leaders. We have religions, friends and parents to fill that role. While we certainly can, and should, be shocked by Jefferson’s and Clinton’s actions, we should not summarily dismiss them as leaders because of mistakes made in their personal lives. Their political actions directly affect the entire country, while moral transgressions directly affect few people. By no means should we ignore the flaws of our leaders and heroes, but discovering them should not lead us to condemn great men out of hand.