The InstaDude makes a point relating the travails of Michael Bellesiles to l’affair Lott. He latches on to a cogent fact that I think is something of a prominent phenomenom in the annals of modern politics:


I think that there are parallels. Oh, not in the underlying offenses. But what puzzles many about the Bellesiles affair is that Bellesiles could have put paid to it early by simply admitting error. Instead, he kept issuing inconsistent statements and whining about persecution. Lott has done something similar. If he had issued Friday’s apology (except perhaps for the self-justification and self-pity) a week earlier, the whole thing would have been over. But he didn’t .


This kind of scenario has played itself out many many times in modern political life. Throughout Clinton’s tenure, I don’t think a reasonable person could deny that Clinton would have been helped immensely had he owned up immediately to any number of blunders or dishonesties from the get-go. And of course, who can forget the all-time home run holder for political scandals and cover-ups, Richard Nixon? After Watergate, had he come clean and admitted that men he hired committed a crime, though one that he did not plan or order, and immediately denounced them for their actions publicly, I think there is a good chance he would have come out of the thing with little political damage.

Of course, there is the caveat that asks whether admitting to the Watergate break-in soon after it happened (or soon after questions began to be raised) would have opened the floodgates on the cavalcade of malfeasance that marked much of the Nixon administration, prompting reporters to only dig deeper with the solid expectation of finding something. I think that’s a possibility, but not very likely, since asuming the posture of openness in that manner goes a long way. Even if some reporters had smelled blood in the water and decided to hound him after Watergate, I think whatever they would have found wouldn’t have got much play. Of course, that all depends on how skillful Nixon’s original message of apology was. Sure, cute and cuddly he ain’t, and I don’t think his awkward personal demeanor would have most people pining away for him to date their daughters, or even do their taxes, but the man wasn’t completely clueless when it came to communicating . It’s entirely possible that he could have pulled off another Checkers speech, and after that it would have taken a helluva lot of proven wrongdoing to bring him down the way he eventually was.

Yet time and again we get these scenarios where the attempt at a cover-up, or, in the less dramatic case of Trent Lott, an effort to simply ignore the problem and hope it dies, ends up only serving as fuel for the bonfire. And in go the vanities.

Does this mean that truth-telling and honestly facing mistakes is not only morally superior but strategically and pragmatically more viable than the traditional political tools of lie big and lie often? Well, I won’t go quite that far just yet. There’s much to be said for tangled webs, methinks. There are many cases when the all of the people got fooled, if not for all of the time, then at least for long enough so that the fooler got some acceptable dividends from his fooling. But that’s not really applicable here since the Bellesiles, Lott, Clinton, Nixon etc scenarios all involved an initial slip-up that basically made it so that the cat was decidedly bagless already, and all that remained was for perhaps someone enterprising to ferret out the details or give it the right shove in the direction of the spotlight.

So if you really want a nice amoral, realpolitik message from all of this, all I can really offer if this: Don’t screw up . But if you do, accept responsibility early and sincerely (or at least appear sincere, for God’s sake).

Nothing too profound, I know. But hey, the Simpsons were positively lackluster tonight, so I don’t particularly feel the need to be in top form either.

last update : 22-5-2018

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