Thursday, June 25, 2009


Apparently it's morally wrong and we need to go stand in the corner, according to John Dickerson of Slate:

The disturbing glee at Mark Sanford's downfall.

... The minute [Mark] Sanford started speaking, the reviews poured in via e-mail and Twitter. He was rambling, confused. He didn't tear up enough when talking about his wife. He favored his mistress. He answered the questions too thoroughly. All these judgments seemed absurd. A man standing in front of a bank of cameras in the middle of a complete collapse is going to say a lot of things poorly.

The snap judgments failed to acknowledge a grain of the fundamental human carnage we were witnessing. You can laugh at Sanford, as you can laugh at a video of a wrecked Amy Winehouse falling all over her house. But at some point, even though they did it to themselves, you have to feel sorry for them as human beings. You can do that, I think, and not be a fan of adultery or drug use.

I'm not offering Sanford's humanity as an excuse. I'm just marveling at how few people stopped for a moment to even nod to it. My thoughtful colleague William Saletan and Andrew Sullivan were exceptions. Maybe there are others. Maybe people expressed these views in private conversations. But in the e-mails and Twitter entries and blog posts I read in the aftermath, Sanford's human ruin was greeted with what felt like antiseptic glee. The pain he's caused, the hypocrisies he's engaged in, seemed like license to deny him any humanity at all.

Boo freaking hoo. OK, granted: I didn't watch the whole news conference, and in the bits I saw he did seem like a confused guy wrestling with what he'd done.

But you know what? He's a prominent, powerful public figure. He set out to become a prominent, powerful public figure -- specifically seeking positions in which he knew any indiscretion of this kind would be subject to precisely this kind of scrutiny. It seems a tiny price to pay for the privilege of wielding enormous amounts of power over a couple million people, with the potential (at least until this incident) of wielding it over hundreds of millions. I'm supposed to feel sorry for the guy because he's now in a fishbowl when he chose to be in a fishbowl? There's a simple alternative: get a real job. Be like the rest of us schmucks, whose work doesn't take us on frequent junkets to global capitals where we can impress exotic strangers with our romantic Marlboro Man Americanness.

And John -- Amy Winehouse? It's morally wrong to laugh at this woman? Yes, I know she's a victim of her biochemistry. In the higher-level, rational parts of my brain, I realize that a tendency toward addiction is quite possibly killing her, and that's a grim story. But hey, I'm a nobody, while she's become a fabulously successful superstar borrowing the musical style of another race and era; she courted the limelight -- but I guess now, after we paid her all that money, we're not supposed to pay any attention to what she does in the limelight we made possible for her. We're supposed to weep for her when her best-known freaking song is a middle finger waved at the very notion of getting clean -- and when there are millions of other addicts out there who don't have a millionth of the resources and opportunities she has to straighten up.

And getting back to Sanford, no, I'm not being a party-hack hypocrite. I wanted Bill Clinton to stay in office once it was clear he wouldn't resign, but I could never blame anyone who thought his sexual behavior was funny, or pathetic, or hurtful. I wrote a dumb post about John Edwards, but, yeah, his affair and the cover-up are absurd, and he's a cad. Spitzer, McGreevey, etc., etc.? Pretty pathetic, and quite understandably mocked. (McGreevey's struggle with his sexuality isn't pathetic at all, but, yeah, the narrative of his cheating was tawdry.)

Whether these people should be driven from public life is a separate story; for that, our rational brains should take over. But these are questions involving status and power -- it's a normal human response to be at least somewhat amused when the powerful cut themselves down to size.

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