Well, here’s another sterling example of our politicians letting us down. In this case, as in most others, political affiliation doesn’t matter because all parties are guilty of gross negligence where public trust is concerned. Besides, that’s not what I want to blog about. In observing the Weiner dilemma (Sorry, I can’t help smiling every time I write that), I have been surprised at the spectrum of reaction. It goes from “Hang him high,” (Sorry, everything about this story seems to hold a double entendre) to “What difference does it make? It’s his personal life.” For me, this last reaction is easiest to refute since his personal life seemed to stand at attention all over the very public Internet. However, the diversity of outcry resurrected a phenomenon of which I’ve long been aware: if we like the person, we’ll excuse any and all behavior. If we find the person abhorrent, we’ll skewer him or her.
I became aware of how easy it is to forgive those we like when I was first teaching, all those years ago. Parents of students frequently marched into school to complain about teachers their children were forced to “suffer.” The complaints, while loud, were often innocuous. None of the offenders seemed to me to be particularly offensive. One day when a student complained to me about something a teacher had done in class, I responded with something like, “That doesn’t seem so bad. I’ve done the same thing.” “But we like you,” the student said.
Ah ha! We defend those we like when they do something we might hate if an “enemy” perpetrated the same act. If you don’t agree with me, Weiner apologists, put Dick Cheney (again the entendre is obvious) in the pictures floating all over the Internet. Would the act still seem silly? Harmless? This brings me to my question: Is it fair to have a double standard? Is it safe? Does moral relativity eventually hurt a person and a country? I think it does, but know that there are many who see it another way.
President Obama, to his defenders, is a man who hasn’t been able to reach greatness because his predecessor created insurmountable obstacles. Our Governor here in Michigan, Rick Snyder, also inherited a mess from his “golden girl” predecessor, but the people who defend Obama excoriate Snyder. It works with the other party, too. They support spying when its generated by their cherished Conservative wing, but hate it when the Democrat administration continues it. Those who abhor abortion frequently defend capital punishment, and vice versa.
I get tired of waffling where basic principles are concerned because it doesn’t seem fair. And I work hard to be fair. When I take a position, I always try to see the other party’s side or see the situation through the other person’s eyes. I admire politicians and others who don’t jump to the ideology their “side” reveres. They are thinkers, enigmas whose reactions often surprise and inform us. What would I do if I were Obama, a relative newcomer to the traps and travails of leadership, immediately attacked by those hoping for me to fail? What would I do if I were Governor Snyder, heading a union-bound state whose largest city is in perhaps irreparable debt? The answers are suddenly no longer easy or simple. For me, courage is built upon being able to look at what is fair and right and doing that which is not easy or popular. And it won’t always pay big dividends. Doing the right thing cost both Lyndon Johnson and Gerald Ford their shots at greatness, for now, anyway.
fiction we frequently find the best approaches to universal dilemmas. This picture is from the movie version of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, the book I had autographed for my son’s IU Law School graduation. I like to think my gift had a little part in why he chose to be a criminal defense attorney. In the book, there is a courtroom scene almost as powerful as the Atticus Finch summation in To Kill a Mockingbird. To wind up his defense of a black man who killed white men who hideously raped and tormented his small daughter, the young lawyer Jake Brigance poses the ultimate exercise in fair play. It’s the best way I can think of to end this Monday’s blog:
Jake Tyler Brigance: [in his summation, talking about Tonya Hailey] I want to tell you a story. I’m going to ask you all to close your eyes while I tell you the story. I want you to listen to me. I want you to listen to yourselves. Go ahead. Close your eyes, please. This is a story about a little girl walking home from the grocery store one sunny afternoon. I want you to picture this little girl. Suddenly a truck races up. Two men jump out and grab her. They drag her into a nearby field and they tie her up and they rip her clothes from her body. Now they climb on. First one, then the other, raping her, shattering everything innocent and pure with a vicious thrust in a fog of drunken breath and sweat. And when they’re done, after they’ve killed her tiny womb, murdered any chance for her to have children, to have life beyond her own, they decide to use her for target practice. They start throwing full beer cans at her. They throw them so hard that it tears the flesh all the way to her bones. Then they urinate on her. Now comes the hanging. They have a rope. They tie a noose. Imagine the noose going tight around her neck and with a sudden blinding jerk she’s pulled into the air and her feet and legs go kicking. They don’t find the ground. The hanging branch isn’t strong enough. It snaps and she falls back to the earth. So they pick her up, throw her in the back of the truck and drive out to Foggy Creek Bridge. Pitch her over the edge. And she drops some thirty feet down to the creek bottom below. Can you see her? Her raped, beaten, broken body soaked in their urine, soaked in their semen, soaked in her blood, left to die. Can you see her? I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she’s white.