At Large : That confessional moment has arrived
In defense of politicians and other public figures, they are not without consciences. As we all do, they regret the bad things they've done. At least, I think they do.
There are only three types of public leaders: those, an understandably small fragment of the species, who do nothing, or nothing of significance, wrong; then there are those who misbehave vigorously, either witlessly or intentionally, but who find ways, or are lucky enough, to keep their indiscretions secret; and finally, there are those too stupid or too careless to keep their malfeasance hidden. It is the latter division that at first denies and then apologizes. And it is these public prostrators that I have my eye on.
Of course, one wishes, to begin with, that they would behave, that they would say what they mean, do what they say, deny themselves something, anything, even occasionally. And, by the way, stop telling us what's good for us or how they're going to fight for us. But, you know, we're all failures in one way or another, at one time or another, to some degree or another, and sometimes an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and authentic regret is in order. That's all understandable. What is beyond toleration is the noxious instinct among public figures for public apology. You know, get the wronged wife - why do they do it? - or the stunned and unbelieving staff by your side on a podium, convene a press conference, and apologize.
Or take to the steps of the federal courthouse moments after the indictment for tax evasion or election fraud comes down. Of course, the pol may wish he'd flossed that morning or that he'd taken his press secretary's advice about having his teeth bleached, or worn the red tie rather than the blue, but he smiles broadly nevertheless, as he says to the cameras and the microphones, it's all a mistake, I'll be cleared in the end. Nothing embarrasses them, and they think their inflated sense of themselves requires a gaseous accounting.
I'm with Oliver Wendell Holmes, the elder, on this. "Apology" he said, "is only egotism wrong side out. It is mighty presumptuous on your part to suppose your small failures of so much consequence that you must make a talk about them."
Senators and Congressmen and presidents smile because they bedazzle themselves. They believe their brilliant emanations will blind their subjects to the unfinished or mangled public business, or the personal waywardness. But, believe me, to the extent that they know they've done wrong, to the extent that they can't hide their sins, well then they want forgiveness. For years, I've offered, with limited success, forgiveness to the miscreants who rule us. I hear their sins and absolve them. Sometimes, I ask them to do a little penance.
Now, these are newspaper absolutions, not presidential pardons or divine indulgences. There are several important differences. First, and most regrettably, no money changes hands. Not one of the recipients of this newspaper's editorial clemency will be obliged to kick in so much as a thin, persuasive dime to lubricate the process. Which makes these dispensations cheap, I suppose, though hardly honorable.
Second - and this is not necessarily something we are proud of - the recipients of clemency will be chosen mostly by whimsy. The behavior of public figures needs a lot of forgiveness, of course, but we have to pick and choose.
Third, clemency is based upon what I hear when the candidates make their confessions to me in private. (There's a little room behind the office here where they come. There's a screen between the sinner and me. I can't see them, but I can hear what they say, and generally I know who they are.). They are not allowed to make public apologies, or the forgiveness may be withdrawn.
Fourth, when they tell me they're sorry, I don't always believe them - you're shocked, shocked, I'm sure - but I figure feigned regret in private is better than gleaming denial in public. To the many public servants and just plain folks who make their confessions but are not absolved, I say, be of good cheer. You will have more to regret in the year ahead, and we can visit then.
So, in addition to my general welcome to those in need, let me add a few particular invitations. I say come Mark London et al, confess your sins. Start with the business of the Island Plan, a 50-year fatuity. Then, let all the rest out. But, do try to be brief. And to the Tisbury selectmen, my confessional awaits. The dog culture that has harried and perplexed you must not be permitted to defeat you. A clear conscience and a clear head go hand in hand, and you will delight in both after visiting with me. To Up-Island DAS committee members, confess your confusion and uncertainty. You will no longer need to pretend you know what lies ahead. What a relief. To the environmental legions who know they should favor wind turbine mania but balk because their views will be compromised, unburden yourselves. To those who would quietly extend MVC rule to remote, unmolested Gosnold, you know who you are, you know what you've done. Absolution may be yours. I have taken my place in the confessional. I await you.