Wednesday, August 29, 2007

That Cloud Over Idaho and Other Transgressions of Mere Mortals

Yesterday, Senator Larry Craig apologized for creating a "cloud over Idaho" because of the bad publicity associated with his possible lewd activity in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. But he denied the lewd activity took place (despite pleading guilty to disorderly conduct) and denied he was gay.

Did Larry Craig solicit a police officer for sex in a bathroom? By the way, I don't get this sex in a public restroom thing. Restrooms are cold, smelly and ugly. Even if Scarlett Johansson were to strip in a public restroom and command me to jump on her bones, I'd probably pass. Anyway, the police officer's report says Larry Craig seems to think bathrooms are pleasure palaces.

Is Larry Craig gay? I consider my gaydar, honed through many years of living around San Francisco, to be excellent. And my verdict is...Larry Craig and Liberace have something in common and it isn't a skill at playing piano.

Regardless, I understand fully why Larry Craig has no interest in owning up to lewd conduct or being gay. If I were him, I would do exactly the same thing: deny, deny, and deny. I'd do it with conviction. I'd face the cameras and lie straight out. Even if there were films of me doing something nasty somewhere, I'd still deny it. I'd say it was someone who looked like me. I'd say it was a plot to discredit me.

While most would say that lying like this is all about survival, I think it's more than that. It's about the role of leadership. And I know this sounds twisted as all get out, but people in positions of leadership need to appear to be infallible. We get our trust from institutions because we like to believe that those we entrust with power are better than us. They have more integrity. They are more honest. And they don't solicit for sex in bathrooms. They don't get blow jobs from interns in the White House. They don't lie about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

We put them up on a pedestal. Sure there is ego and personal reputation at stake when they engage in the scummy activities that mere mortals do and get caught doing it. But more importantly, at stake is also the value of the institution they represent.

My view is that no politician or person in a position of authority should own up to their mortal misdeeds if they can help it. There may be a time when it's actually in their best interest to tell the truth; if that's the case, they should spill the beans. But if it isn't, they shouldn't.

So go ahead Bill Clinton, shake your finger on camera and deny having sex with an intern. Go ahead Larry Craig and deny soliciting for sex in a bathroom. Go ahead George Bush and deny you know who is responsible for leaking Valerie Plame's name to the press. Our faith in institutions demands that you do.

People in leadership aren't better than the rest of us. They have the same mortal and moral flaws as you and I. When we place ridiculous expectations on their character and integrity they have no recourse but to lie.

There is of course the legend of our founding father, George Washington, chopping down a cherry tree as a child and owning up to it. It's a funny story. Why the hell would he chop the tree down in the first place? Anyhow, as an individual George Washington should of course do the right thing and admit to his misdeed. But once he becomes a public figure, I don't think that rule applies.

Let's go back a couple hundred years. President Washington has a thing about axes and trees. Who knows why? He's had that thing since he was a kid. He goes out one night in the middle of cherry blossom season and chops down a couple of trees in the Tidal Basin. The next morning some reporter notices the trees missing. Who did it? If I were Washington, I'd say, "I have no idea, but we'll get to the bottom of this tragedy." There is no other recourse folks. By demanding so much from our leaders we require that they be liars.

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