Have we become a society where we expect sainthood, especially of our politicians? Could they have lived lives without a single blemish?
We are all too aware of the controversy surrounding Virginia’s governor. As a student, he apparently committed a juvenile prank in poor taste. He has since lived a good, productive life of service both as a physician and as a politician, helping constituents of all kinds. He has apologized for his lapse of judgment. Despite this, the people of Virginia seem to want his blood.
The new Supreme Court Justice, Brett Kavanaugh, also behaved stupidly as a student, became inebriated and did not conduct himself with honor. He later rose through the ranks, mentored many junior lawyers, male and female, and has led a professionally exemplary life.
I am Jewish. About a year ago, a patient showed up and I noted a swastika tattoo on his upper arm. I told him bluntly that unless he removed it, I did not want to see him in my office again.
He has returned and has apologized for his “juvenile, redneck” behavior and covers the tattoo with a bandage. He can’t afford its surgical removal. He has apologized, and I have accepted it.
I cannot speak for everyone, but I have done rash, stupid things for which I have apologized and tried to make amends. We know what happened in Germany during World War II. As a nation, Germans have discussed and demonstrated their national shame. They are better for it.
We, however, castigate and demonize those who run for public office for misdeeds that occurred decades ago when societal norms were different. Despite genuine and meaningful regret, forgiveness is not an option granted to them.
Surely, we want highly qualified and ethical representatives. But don’t they have to be human also, subject to the stresses to which we are all exposed? How they respond to their shortcomings speaks more to their character than had they lived a life devoid of any controversy.
Knee-jerk reactions to incidents that occurred so many years ago sound more like retribution than an understanding of the jigsaw of human emotions.
Good people are destroyed by what could be called political cannibalism. Is it any surprise, therefore, that good candidates, well motivated to serve, avoid running for public office for fear that something that occurred in high school will be uncovered and sensationalized to their own detriment? Think forgiveness.
Walter D. Leventhal, M.D.