The recent New York Times article on John McCain was nothing but a witch hunt of gossip and innuendo. If the article showed anything of substance, it was that our politicians, of necessity, must work in a dark wood of ethical pitfalls and dilemmas. Contrary to the article’s intent, I was impressed by the priority that McCain gives to ethics and by the corrections that he has made after committing ethical lapses. Unlike other politicians who lie, rationalize and deny, John McCain has owned up to his mistakes. Unfortunately, for many people, that’s not good enough.
Puritanism is very much alive and well in the media and public square of America. The Puritans believed in an Elect, that God had pre-elected who was to be saved. They believed that the Elect were morally perfect, that the Elect lived among everyone else, but that no one could be sure who they were. The motivation to behave morally was that, even though you couldn’t know for sure, there was a possibility that you might be among the Elect. In that society, if you sinned, you were damned forever, with no possibility of redemption. That is the attitude that the media and most American citizens still have towards our Presidential candidates.
This is why the politics of “gotcha” among the media and politicians is such a popular sport—if they can catch you in a few or just one good, “gotcha,” you’re toast. With the media, any sin, hypocrisy, or excess of flip-flopping in a Presidential candidate’s past is sufficient to make them unfit for office, forever. That is one reason why, when politicians are accused of wrongdoing, they go into denial--if they confess and come clean, their career may be over. Net-net, wrong doing remains hidden, festers and is never expurgated. This legacy of Puritanism has made hypocrites of both us and our politicians. Ultimately, it reinforces the very thing that it overtly opposes. It is unfortunate that politics, government, and the public square in America are such a dark wood of scrupulosity, condemnation and hypocrisy.