There is a long tradition of Americans looking past the misdeeds of leaders who provide good stewardship, from Presidents Ronald Reagan (Iran-Contra) and Bill Clinton (impeachment) on down. When does the good outweigh the bad? Consider these three cases.
Exhibit A: This politician shot his wife's lover dead in broad daylight across from the White House. But he was a Civil War general and Medal of Honor recipient who led troops at Gettysburg and was instrumental in preserving the battlefield as a national monument.
Result: In 1859, Rep. Daniel Sickles (N.Y.) killed his wife's lover, Francis Scott Key's son Philip. Sickles, acquitted by the first successful use of the "temporary insanity" defense, then served in the Union Army. In 1893 he returned to Congress.
Exhibit B: This politician was arrested for driving under the influence and was fined by the Federal Election Commission. But he helped bring down the Soviet Union by championing U.S. aid to Afghan fighters, supported projects important to his district and was loved by his constituents.
Result: From 1973 to 1997, Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, served 12 terms in Congress. He was played by Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson's War.
Exhibit C: This politician was charged with mail fraud, obstruction of justice and bribery for a $2 million payoff. But his opponent was a former KKK grand wizard and neo-Nazi.
Result: In 1991, Edwin Edwards beat David Duke to return to the governorship of Louisiana, aided by the bumper sticker "Vote for the crook. It's important." Edwards beat the charges while in office but later spent eight years in prison for extortion and fraud. He's running for Congress.
© 2014 Washington Post