Someone once said that former President Bill Clinton could drive a convertible through a car wash and never get wet.

Well, now it looks like Tiger Woods is riding in the back seat of that car.

The scandalized golfer returned to the friendly confines of Augusta National Golf Club this week after hiding out in shame since his late-night domestic disturbance on Thanksgiving.

For months, his name has been dragged through the mud as more and more was revealed about his numerous affairs.

Making it worse was his previous squeaky-clean image put forth with his gorgeous wife and their two beautiful children.

Smart money wouldn't have bet Tiger's future was worth a plug nickel after some of his big-name sponsors pulled away like he had contracted the plague.

Then again, everybody thought Clinton was toast, too.

Say you're sorry

Tiger's warm and heart-felt reception this week at the Masters Golf Tournament, his most anticipated public appearance since his highly publicized incident last fall, tells us a lot about people, politics and the wide world of sports.

If Clinton, for instance, can come back from the Monica Lewinski scandal and subsequent impeachment proceedings to become one of the most beloved and respected statesmen of our time, then there's hope for every famous fool who runs off the rail.

These are classic cases of how forgiving the public can be when people admit their mistakes and simply say they're sorry.

Because we all suffer from the same weaknesses that come with being human, we instinctively understand how easy it is to fall from grace.

We've all done dumb things and regretted them. And we've all been caught and paid a price for our stupidity.

The key to forgiveness, however, depends on how you handle the fallout.

Addicted to charisma

In Clinton's case, he lied about it and still came out smelling like a rose.

And in Tiger's case, he stonewalled the world, hoping it would go away, and still returned to thunderous applause from the galleries in Augusta despite his public relations blunders.

What this says about us as a people is that we are able to distinguish between what people do in their private lives and what they do in their public lives. Or that we just don't care.

Or, perhaps, it depends on the person.

Both Clinton and Woods enjoy what I call the "Elvis Effect," in that people love them despite their terrible flaws.

As a population addicted to charisma, we never apply equal justice to those we really, really like. They can get away with almost anything. Almost.

Their only problem is that their wives, Hillary and Elin, are always waiting for them at the other end of the car wash.

Reach Ken Burger at kburger@postandcourier.com or 937-5598.