Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Edwards story

The Ferrett writes about the recent scandal: John Edwards, who has run for president a couple of times now as the moral arm of the Democrats, had an affair with another woman during the time that his wife has had cancer. He (the Ferrett) thinks the most important thing about this story is Edwards' misrepresentation of himself:

So you know what? There's this sword over here that he lived by and died by. If you're going to tout your morals as one of your best selling points, then when you get called on that? Nobody's fault but your own. Yes, it's a lot harder to run on the issues, and I wish more people could manage it... But when you play the "VOTE FOR ME 'CAUSE I'M ALMOST AS MORAL AS THE POPE!" card, then don't be surprised when someone trumps that play with "NO YOU'RE NOT."

The most important thing about the Edwards story is that it's just like all the others. Politicians have to pretend to be a certain way in order to get elected. They have to pretend to be monogamous, they have to pretend to be against special interests and pork projects, and they have to pretend they're going to change things (even conservatives).

The question I find more interesting is what conclusions can we draw about the pundits, the campaign-runners, and the electorate given this requirement to pretend? Hypocrisy runs rampant through US culture--not that I think that's a bad thing, just something important that is often overlooked and underestimated, especially by the progressives who are treating it as the greatest sin against the New Religion of being true to oneself. If you can't abide by the rules you've set, then you ought to admit that it's time to change the rules! is their motto; no empathy or understanding for the value of setting a goal and standard of behavior even if individually one doesn't meet it.

I am not surprised at deception from candidates: we beg them for it. We insist upon it. We punish them for honesty: who among them, then, would dare to be honest? How can they do the necessary work they believe in (and I believe they do believe in it, they believe they can effect important change for this country only by entering political office) if we won't elect them unless they lie, and then harangue and deride them for it when they're caught? Oh, some of the derision and disdain is because of the behaviors they are caught in: there are many, many people in the US who most sincerely believe adultery is wrong, and a bad enough wrong to justify ending the career of any politician who is proven to engage in, or admits to it. But more, I think, is attributable to the pretense.

I am offended by the pretense. I'd like to believe I can handle the truth, but as Jack Nicholson famously sneered, you can't handle the truth. The truth would mean confronting without a shield of vagueness all the things I don't like about any particular candidate. The truth would make it harder for me to admit that I'm compromising, that I'm choosing to compromise with someone who has characteristics I dislike or even despise, and admitting that threatens my self-esteem.

So I don't blame politicians for lying, for creating an acceptable image of themselves to get my vote, for (possibly) betraying their own sense of morals and ethics by pretending to be all the things we ask them to be, in order to get elected.

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