Saturday Musings….I?m continually fascinated by president?s (and his supporters?) insistence on rightness, and their predilection for equating it with goodness. So it was of interest that, as I mentioned earlier, the president used his weekly radio address to reassert not only the necessity, but the rightness, of his decision to authorize a secret domestic spying program, and cast those who exposed it to the light of day as putting American citizens at risk and endangering the country. There seems, at this point, little chance that Bush will be any more likely to admit error after this revelation than with any other that has come before. Being wrong is not an option. It never is.
I always find it particularly curious when a self-identified born-again Christian seems so patently incapable of admitting being wrong, as forgiveness is such a significant part of Christian doctrine. When a Messiah has died for your sins, surely it indicates an expectation that you?ll commit some.
Back in July, Mannion penned (so to speak) a brilliant post on why (certain) conservatives feel free to cast the first stone, which included one of my favorite lines of all time:
[I]f Jesus were around today and a woman taken in adultery ran to him for protection and he said to the crowd, Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone, forty-six Republican adulterers would bean her with rocks.
His post, in turn, inspired a post of my own, adding to his thoughts mine about the nature of born-again conservatives in the Bush mold. An excerpt:
Born-agains, like Bush, have a different attitude about this stuff than, say, traditional guilt-ridden Catholics or Lutherans, or even your average atheist. There’s a sense of accumulation among the latter?the feeling that life is a continuing thread, and bad behavior may be past, but hasn’t disappeared. Believers in souls might suggest that each sin leaves an indelible mark; absolution may wash the soul clean, but its shape is forever changed by the dings and dents of living a mortal, and hence imperfect, life. Non-believers might say that your mistakes stay with you, even after you have made amends, and leave a mark on your psyche, in your memory, on a strand of time. Whatever the language, the principle is the same?our flaws are a part of us, and it’s usually considered a good thing. You?ve learned. Built character. When we fall in love and find ourselves, on a lazy weekend morning, investigating a new and mysterious naked skin, we ask about the scars our fingertips find. How did you get this one? In the same way, we come to know who a person is by finding out about the bad things that have defined them, as well as the good that?s ever more readily apparent.
Born-agains start with a ‘clean slate’ somewhere in life, and?they intend to keep those slates clean. They carry around their erasers, fastidiously erasing any sign of a mark on their shining slates and bemoaning the states of ours, messy as they are. The only good slate is a clean slate. They can’t see the artwork that the rest of us see, finding beauty in each other’s flaws and pain and mistakes and scars.
Inextricably linked with this notion seems to be (for many people, our president among them) the aforementioned unyielding determination to be right. Being wrong isn?t necessarily bad or evil; on most occasions, it?s a neutral situation?an unintentional error that can be easily repaired with a correction, and an apology, if one is required. And yet, all the stay-the-course rhetoric, the unwillingness to apologize (or even admit mistakes), the stubborn refusals to acknowledge disagreements as anything but ill-intentioned?it all stinks of someone who fears more than simply being seen as vulnerable by virtue of error, someone who instead equates being wrong with being bad.
I?m the good guy, so what I think is right. Anyone who disagrees is therefore not only wrong, but the bad guy.
This kind of black-and-white thinking is the vile, festering bog from which swells the impetus behind casting liberals as traitors. Not just opponents with genuine and legitimate disagreements. Not even just plain old wrong. Bad. There?s no room for such rigidity of thought in a healthy, vibrant democracy, which should accommodate a plurality of ideas, and yet we repeatedly find ourselves left with a choice between two extremes?good and bad, proponents of each pole casting themselves as the former, and their rivals as the latter. One side starts throwing stones over the vast wasteland that separates them, devoid of common ground, as the other finds it increasingly difficult to remain reasonable, particularly when affected measure does nothing to discourage the onslaught.
This isn?t an argument for mushy political centrism, which I typically regard with no small amount of disdain. I just wonder if it?s possible for those who only see in black and white to start seeing some grays in the process of political debate, to stop casting their political adversaries as bad. To stop throwing stones long enough to admit a mistake occasionally. Maybe mumble the occasional sorry. It?s not that hard; I do it all the time. I?m a klutz with a mind like a steel sieve and a penchant for occasional bitchiness, the sum total of which provides plenty of occasions which require a fix, an amends, an apology. And, you know, sometimes it is hard to admit a mistake, to apologize?but it?s those times in particular when stepping up is a sign of strength, and staying the course is the coward?s way out.
Clean slates are overrated. Especially the ones that remain so only because mistakes have not been admitted, even though they?ve been made. My slate is a mess, and so are the slates of most people I know, but I?ll take an honest mess over an insincere, chalkless tidiness any day of the week.
I?ve no doubt that Bush will continue to steadfastly assert his rightness on a whole array of issues, no matter how starkly all evidence may point to the contrary. The question I have is why. No one is infallible. (In fact, that?s sort of the whole point of his favorite philosopher.) So who does he think he?s fooling?and why does he try?