Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Mistakes And Regrets

Somehow, it seems appropriate that, on the day the Iraq Study Group releases their final report to the President on the situation in Iraq and their recommendations on how to fix it (definitely not "stay the course") and with the upcoming holiday season, we should talk about making mistakes and the consequences thereon.

I think we've seen enough public embarassments in just this year alone....anybody recall Mel Gibson? understand the dynamics of making a mistake and what to do afterwards. Life's little object lesson.

And yet, the people who should be most responsible, our leaders, seem to be the ones who have the most problems owning their mistakes. What's the saying: "Success has many parents, while failure is an orphan"? And yet, it is by their mistakes that our public figures, even politicians, are judged, at least in the short run.

Take Bill Clinton. This President oversaw the greatest economic engine in the history of the world: the 1990s American economy. He did this while maintaining a basic level of peace for the country, and improving relations with nearly every country in the world, which only served to help our economy.

People thrived. They not only thrived, but all evidence points to the fact that the American people had never had it so good.

Mention his name, tho, and it is inextricably linked to Monica Lewinski. Oh, history will change that, no doubt. Historians will see the good works Bill accomplished despite having an antagonistic Congress for six of his eight years, and they'll judge him as one of the greatest in American history, or at least the 20th Century.

Imagine what would happen if Bill had simply said, in 1998, what he said on the campaign trail in 2000: "I made a mistake, and caused great pain to my family and let down my friends. I'm sorry." It's impossible to know what that would have meant for the rest of his term, but certainly if he was able to accomplish what he did with Lewsinki and Starr hanging around his neck, he'd be able to accomplish at least that much, and prima facie, be already judged one of the greats.

Bush doesn't have the luxury of a booming economy, or global peace, or frankly, anything of note to point to as an accomplishment, which means his failures and mistakes become magnified.

And yet, it is rare and grudging that he will even admit a mistake, much less show regret for making it.

The list of Bush lies, lies that killed men and women, American, allied, and Iraqi, are too numerous to list. Even recent lies have been exposed so fast and furiously that it's hard to keep track: Bush says he never said stay the course, yet two days later, he's saying there will be no change in policy. Semantic quibbling, a bald-faced lie, or does Bush have a personality disorder of such magnitude that he actually believes, despite video and audio evidence, that he never said those words?

Or is it a case of "what the definition of 'is' is"?

One might hope that the release of the Iraq Study Group's report today would trigger an internal cleansing. I don't mean of administration personnel, but of Bush's conscience and soul. Confession, you know.

And yet, I doubt it will happen. I think one of the huge blindspots of American society is the belief that forgiveness will come, no matter what. Certainly, the comebacks of many celebrities from some horribly icky circumstances...Hugh Grant and a hooker in his car leaps to mind, but then so does Bill Clinton and Richard some support to this belief on the part of any politician: why admit a mistake when you can simply get out of the spotlight for a while, then make a comeback and be granted "elder statesman" status? Just ask Robert Byrd, who took his damn sweet time to express regrets about his former KKK membership.

Too, the Protestant work ethic and Christianity in general support this trope: why be penitent at all when, on your death bed, you can make a bland apology and get a priest or minister to ratify your sincerity, thus guaranteeing your entrance into heaven? What's the point in "doing a mitzvah," as the Jews call them, when you can recant at the last second?

I think this "forgiveness" thing gets distorted, as well. Ted Haggard indulges in behavior that would embarass most hedonists, yet his peers speak of his forgiveness as if its fait accompli, even tho his own culture demands five years of "rehabilitation," a process that by its own founder is no more than fifty percent effective (ignoring precisely what he's supposed to be rehabilitating from...). Meanwhile, a meth addict steals some food to feed his family (admittedly, a distortion of his responsibility to clean himself up, get a job and do it the right way) and these same people tut-tut, and throw him in jail for years.

Which brings me to one more point about the "forgiveness merry-go-round" in America: when forgiveness becomes assumed for some, it means that others will suffer undue burdens to prove that they are worth forgiving, because those who are easily forgiven find it easy to shirk that forgiveness and go back to the behaviors that got them in trouble in the first place. Just ask pitcher Steve Howe.

The dynamic in Bush's case is curious: here's a man who, by all measures of this analysis, should be a slam dunk for obtaining forgiveness from those who matter the most to him: his base, Christians and rich war-mongers.

And yet, for some reason, he can't find the strength in himself to pull the trigger and admit he's made some big mistakes. And apologize for them. His bullheadedness, long thought to be a strength, is nothing more than a manifestation of his Wimp Factor. It speaks to me of lacking the moral fibre and self-consciousness to look at yourself and do the right, altho hard, thing.

And his life cries out this theme: take the easy way out. Duck! Cover! Deny! Stonewall! Shed responsibility to your fellow citizens for personal comfort and gain! Never forget you are of the privileged elite and you never get your hands dirty!

Even his confession to being a flat-out drunk and then ducking the true work of rehabilitation seems cynical and calculated.

Well, I've been surprised by life before, and maybe today we'll see the turning of a page to a new Bush.

But I doubt it.

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