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Doris Kearns-Goodwin: Excusing Affairs Only Way to Get 'Best People in Public Life,' Like FDR and Clinton

Appearing on Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, liberal historian Doris Kearns-Goodwin pleaded for the American people to excuse extramarital affairs of public figures like David Petraeus: "What would we have done if FDR had not been our leader because he had an affair with Lucy Mercer? Think of the productive years that Clinton could have had if Monica Lewinsky hadn't derailed them. We've got to figure out a way that we give a private sphere for our public leaders. We're not gonna get the best people in public life if we don't do that." [Listen to the audio]

Kearns-Goodwin lamented how public officials today are held to moral standards: "I wish we could go back to the time when the private lives of our public figures were relevant only if they directly affected their public responsibilities....This man was a great general, a great leader, and for his career to come to an end because of a private matter that affects his family and him and evidently doesn't have national security concerns."

The Washington Post's Bob Woodward completely dismantled her argument: "Unfortunately, for the CIA Director, he has special status and he's got to be clean. He can't be blackmailed or threatened or even deal with the anxiety, 'My God, are they gonna find out about her?' And he did the right thing."

Here is a transcript of the November 11 exchange:

10:58AM ET

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DAVID GREGORY: Doris, as I have said this weekend, not exactly a topic that brings husbands and wives closer together. But your thoughts about this in terms of what should've happened?

DORIS KEARNS-GOODWIN: I don't know. I think in general, I wish we could go back to the time when the private lives of our public figures were relevant only if they directly affected their public responsibilities. What would we have done if FDR had not been our leader because he had an affair with Lucy Mercer? Think of the productive years that Clinton could have had if Monica Lewinsky hadn't derailed them. We've got to figure out a way that we give a private sphere for our public leaders. We're not gonna get the best people in public life if we don't do that. This thing is really sad. This man was a great general, a great leader, and for his career to come to an end because of a private matter that affects his family and him and evidently doesn't have national security concerns. I don't know how you unravel it, but I wish we could.

BOB WOODWARD: Unfortunately, for the CIA Director, he has special status and he's got to be clean. He can't be blackmailed or threatened or even deal with the anxiety, "My God, are they gonna find out about her?" And he did the right thing. He's telling associates now, and I think this is important, David, that he's not gonna hide under a rock. He's gonna do other things, as Steve [Schmidt] suggests. His career is not over. His career at the CIA is over and that's absolutely the right thing to do. No, I mean, this – I have known him for twenty years and Petraeus is the sort of person who the smallest little thing bothers him. And to go through this, and clearly a man of – of conscience made a grave mistake and just that – that anxiety is the sort of thing that could set anyone on edge.

(...)