Sunday, June 28, 2009

Post No. 124a: Re-Posting of Post No. 89: The High Price of Stubbing Your Toe

Over the past several weeks, several elected officials have admitted to extra-marital affairs. We previously expressed some thoughts on the subject in an earlier post, and we are posting it again for your consideration.


© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

Owning up to one’s mistakes seems to be one of mortal man’s most difficult acts.

In January 1998, for example, Bill Clinton famously said, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Monica Lewinsky,” though months later, after surviving the ordeal of impeachment, he admitted that his relationship with the young woman had been “wrong” and “not appropriate.”

A cloud of presidential hanky-panky has hung over him ever since, likely diminishing his legacy, though it’s possible that his efforts around the world will offer some degree of redemption.

Lately, a new parade of politicians, celebrities, business people and athletes has come forward to face the white-hot glare of public scrutiny.

The former governor of Illinois, for example, a man seemingly caught red-handed in blatantly illegal activities, stonewalled and attempted to make the case for his innocence on America’s talk shows, at the same time the impeachment machine moved forward unimpeded.

Earlier this month, we saw Michael Phelps admit, without hesitation, that he made a mistake. Despite this, lucrative sponsorship deals that resulted from his eight Olympic gold medals were immediately withdrawn, and law enforcement conducted an investigation to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

Not long ago, another athlete, Alex Rodriguez, arguably the best baseball player of all time, admitted to using performance-enhancement drugs, sullying his past accomplishments and calling into question whether any records he may break in the future will be legitimate achievements.

In Washington, a respected former Senator, Tom Daschle, up for a key cabinet post in the new administration, ran into a buzz saw when it was revealed that he hadn’t paid taxes on benefits he had received in the position he had held prior to his nomination.

Daschle’s mea culpa was “too little, too late,” according to his critics, though the same comments were not levied against Timothy Geithner, now Secretary of the Treasury and head of the IRS, when his nomination was questioned over his back taxes owed.

Later, Geithner, in a pro-active sleight of hand, said that mistakes would be made in the Administration’s effort to stimulate the economy.

Watching all these large and small melodramas unfold – believe us, Michael Phelps’ mistake was a small one in the big picture – it occurred to us that immediate benefits ought to accrue to those who admit fault and accept responsibility.

We admire our new president’s forthright response to the Daschle incident.

“I screwed up,” he said.

And take note. He said, “I,” not “we” or “my people in charge of vetting cabinet nominees.” Like the small placard that sat on Harry Truman’s desk, the one that read “The buck stops here,” he took ownership of the problem.

Unfortunately, public reaction to admissions of culpability suggests that we, as a society, may be at risk of making it more and more difficult for people, as the expression goes, to fess up.

We have become a society that, in many ways, salivates for red meat from the mouths of talk show pundits and late night comedians.

As children, our parents and teachers encouraged us to tell the truth, even if it meant punishment.

As we matured, we appreciated that doing the right thing, while not always rewarded at the time, would ultimately prove to be in our long-term interests.

Somehow, society must create an environment in which citizens, particularly our elected officials, are permitted, even encouraged, to stand up and admit mistakes, with society viewing such admissions, not as signs of weakness but instead, as individual strength.

At some point, we have to change the culture of denial. Revisiting the potential legal liability associated with acknowledging mistakes might be a start.

We applaud the Obama administration for initiating the climate change, however under-appreciated the effort may seem.

While the costs to our pride and social standing in the short term may appear to be high, the failure to pay that price up front may have a far greater cost over the long haul.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is just plain Common Sense.

© 2009, the Institute for Applied Common Sense

5 comments:

  1. I agree with your call for change in society. I think we hold our politicians in particular up to a standard that is simply not human. We all make errors, sometimes they are small and sometimes they are critical. If these are relevant to the job one is to fulfill, then they are important to examine and address.

    But if these are related to their personal lives, I don't think they merit all the speculation and discussion. Mind you, I like a political sex scandal as much as anyone else in the vulture culture, but I am not sure having a mistress (unless you abandon your job to run off to see her) makes you unsuitable to hold office.

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  2. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

    Anybody who suggests anything else probably voted for Richard Nixon.

    If you own up to your own failings, you make the issue irrelevant... no political coercion can be applied to a man who insists on telling the truth... and who you sleep with rarely has any policy consequences.

    Look at the Log Cabin Group.

    On the other hand, if you have spent your whole career courting a bunch of right wing religious whackos, well... that ought to constitute a sufficient reason to disqualify you from serious government service in the first place...

    ReplyDelete
  3. Av Flox: Thanks for taking the time to visit our forum and post a comment. We look forward to other visits in the future.

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  4. If a person cannot remain faithful to the vows he promised his wife, the one supposedly nearest his heart, the one he loves above all others, then how could we, mere strangers, ever trust him (or her)?
    Of course, I realize I am one of those who remained in the minority and thought that the honorable thing to do then was for the president to resign. Just as it is the honorable thing for the governor to do now. But I do not live in South Carolina and it is not my concern except as the example it sets.

    We may not always live up to the moral standards but there is no reason we cannot try.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.

    Anybody who suggests anything else probably voted for Richard Nixon.

    If you own up to your own failings, you make the issue irrelevant... no political coercion can be applied to a man who insists on telling the truth... and who you sleep with rarely has any policy consequences.

    Look at the Log Cabin Group.

    On the other hand, if you have spent your whole career courting a bunch of right wing religious whackos, well... that ought to constitute a sufficient reason to disqualify you from serious government service in the first place...

    ReplyDelete

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