Georgia Democratic Rep. Cynthia McKinney's recent run-in with a security official at the nation's Capitol reminded me of an earlier dust-up.
On New Year's Eve 2002, while I was a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, the superintendent the distinguished three-star Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton tried to enter the academy without wearing the photo ID required of all military and civilian personnel.
Naturally expecting that the young Marine sentry on duty would recognize his all-important superintendent, Naughton boldly tried to pass. But instead, the Marine asked him to produce identification. Angry words and some sort of altercation ensued between the admiral and the enlisted man.
Later, Naughton claimed he couldn't "remember" whether he had "touched" the guard, but he did concede he "might" have done so.
After a lengthy, ultimately damming investigation, Naughton resigned first from his post as academy superintendent and then subsequently from the Navy altogether. During the investigation, some skeptics at Annapolis had doubted whether Naughton would pay any price. But his exalted rank, along with his race and gender, won no exemption.
I mention the Naughton case to illustrate that such mix-ups at government checkpoints are not unusual and that eventually public pressure catches up with aristocratic arrogance and even the powerful are held to account.
Cynthia McKinney recently had her own Naughton moment when she tried to enter the Capitol.
Like the admiral, she took umbrage when confronted by a guard who didn't recognize her and was merely trying to do his job of protecting a government facility. She, too, found herself in some sort of physical altercation with a lowly subordinate. But that's where the comparisons end.
All the facts are not yet known, and McKinney is an elected official not subject to military accountability. But her reaction to this similar incident tells us a great deal about the pathologies of our current culture.
After witnesses related that McKinney was asked to stop three times and replied with some sort of shove she went public at a press conference. There she resorted to the now all too familiar fallback positions unavailable to Naughton. Surrounded by celebrities like Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, McKinney said, "This whole incident was instigated by the inappropriate touching and stopping of me, a female, black congresswoman."
Note how she covered all the bases to preempt a possible indictment, putting the onus on the aggrieved. Plus, in our star-struck culture, we equate celebrity with gravitas. And so we are supposed to believe that an otherwise clueless Calypso singer or action-hero actor lend credence to McKinney's wild charges.
McKinney not only played the race and celebrity cards, but the feminist one as well as if the dutiful policemen had kept his job this long by allowing unrecognized white male elected officials to enter checkpoints without showing identification.
And if race and gender were not enough, McKinney evoked the standard sexual harassment code words "inappropriate touching" as if a randy guard were trying to grope the defenseless congresswoman.
McKinney realizes that claims of victimization are the keys to conning our system and that the more accusations of racism, sexism and harassment the better for turning the cowardly aggressor into the heroically aggrieved.
Some of the official response so far has been depressing. The leading Democrat in the House, California's Nancy Pelosi, initially dryly dismissed the incident with, "I would not make a big deal of this."
Fine, except this same congresswoman recently referred to Vice President Dick Cheney's handling of his hunting accident as a "manifestation of the arrogance of the White House. They don't come clean with the American people. They think they are above the law and above accountability to the American people."
Note Pelosi's words "arrogance" and "above the law." Is deliberately slugging a federal security official at a Capitol checkpoint less arrogant or illegal than how Cheney behaved after accidentally peppering a friend during a private hunt?
So, what can we learn from the McKinney moment?
Slandering someone as racist and sexist is now supposed to do for Democrats what the old wealth and power purportedly did for Republicans give them an unfair advantage and allow them to evade the rules.
Progressives once gained credence because they insisted merit should outweigh class, money and connections. These days they are losing credibility when they insist race and gender should trump merit and facts.
America has learned to apply the rules to a Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton; now it must also insist on them for Rep. Cynthia McKinney.