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. We ordinary souls must deal with the wife, or the kids, or your mother in law. All of these near and dear ones seem to have that special inborn genetic technology that can detect your screw-ups whenever and wherever they are committed. Sometimes, they even know before you do something wrong that you’re going to. There’s no escaping.
These bigwigs, on the other hand, believe that, because they do business on a grand scale and spend taxpayers’ money as if they are doing us a favor, and as exuberantly as if it belonged to them, maybe they can slip by without getting caught. That’s why they smile at odd moments. For instance, a typical politician unleashes that vote-getting grin anytime a camera is pointed at him. Now, if he happens to be on the steps of the federal courthouse moments after being indicted for tax evasion or election fraud or consorting with prostitutes, his thoughts turn to wishing 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.
Sometimes, he (seldom, but occasionally she) will offer an apology, but only if we the people are offended. If we happen not to be offended by his thievery, fecklessness, or prurience, he encourages us to ignore the apology and text a small but meaningful donation to his campaign website. And anyhow, it was was not his fault but rather the fault of the president or the Congress or the Republicans or the Democrats or the previous administration or the NSA, not him.
Nothing embarrasses them, and they never go away.
Senators and Congressmen and presidents smile because they hope the dazzle will blind us to their unfinished or mangled business. But, believe me, they and all the lesser public figures we endure know they’ve done wrong, and if they can’t hide their sins, well then they want forgiveness and a second chance. As I have often done, I offer forgiveness to the miscreants who rule us. I am prepared to hear their sins and absolve them. Sometimes, I ask them to do a little penance.
To be plain, 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 either — the recipients of clemency will be chosen mostly by whimsy. The behavior of public figures needs a lot of forgiveness, of course, and the quality of my mercy is decidedly strained, so I 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.)
Fourth, when they say they’re sorry, I don’t always believe them, but I figure feigned regret is better than smiling denial, so all are welcome.
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 years ahead, and we can visit then.
Hear ye, members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, who hear and hear and hear applicants’ plans; members of the Dukes County commission, who over the years have shed all of their meaningful responsibilities but kept the tax dollars sent to fund them; the judges of the Dukes County District Court who serially convict and release malefactors to continue their villainy upon this community whose justice and security is the responsibility of their courts; and the members of the Steamship Authority, who raise the rates annually and pay the cries from the afflicted communities for relief no heed.
I have taken my place in the confessional. I await you, and all the others not mentioned who long to make their confessions. You know who you are.