The transgression of a celebrity can be worth a thousand sermons. A lot
of the gossip on the Internet and in the tabloids is cheap and
irresponsible, but accurate dishing on the failures of the rich and
famous usually has a bracing effect on society.
No longer are the prudes limited to the pulpit, the classroom or the
dinner table. The young as well as the old find instruction in the
consequences of the behavior of Tiger Woods. It's impossible not to feel
his pain of a suddenly lonely life, of golfing on the driving range at
night, before supping on cold cereal. Nobody appointed Tiger a role
model, but he enjoyed fame and glamour as the refreshing antidote to the
bad boy athletes high on steroids and ego. He enjoyed his carefully
cultivated family-man image.
Santa knows who's been naughty and who's been nice, but even Santa would
find it hard to find out who's been a hypocrite. Hypocrisy, as depicted
in the Middle Ages, is invisible to all but God. The hypocrite has been
depicted as both the archer and the mark. Mastery in sport or work does
not necessarily translate into mastery of the self.
With only a touch of irony, columnist Frank Rich observes in The New
York Times that Tiger ought be Time's Man of the Year because he's
emblematic of America's ability to mythologize heroes (and leaders)
while avoiding even a fleeting skepticism of what's beneath the surface
of our personal biases. This observation is less about morality than
about habits of mind forged on the left and the right by political spin.
"Though the American left and right don't agree on much, they are both
now coalescing around the suspicion that Barack Obama's brilliant
presidential campaign was as hollow as Tiger's public image a
marketing scam designed to camouflage either his covert anti-American
radicalism (as the right sees it), or spineless timidity (as the left
The analogy is inexact because Obama's political contradictions have
never gone unnoticed. They were all a matter of public record and have
been amply scrutinized by his critics. He was never in hiding from
either the left or the right. The right was quick to pick up on his
relationship with William Ayers, the unrepentant leader of the radical
and violent Weather Underground.
Even though he was not exactly a savory acquaintance for a man with
presidential ambitions, Obama never seemed to see anything wrong with
the connection. He didn't seem to understand what everyone else saw as
unsavory in his having sat in the pew to listen to the Rev. Jeremiah
Wright's profane and racist rants over two decades.
The left was aware of Obama's timidity in his early campaigning for the
White House and was never quite sure that he was one of them. What they
knew was he could be a winner.
The contradictions the voters see in Obama now were real, not the work
of spinmeisters. They were tied together by the president's
narcissistic belief in himself, which he imagined transcended politics.
His prolific use of the personal pronoun bears this out. He believes in
his own sincerity. For a while, we did, too.
"Every man alone is sincere," wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. "At the
entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins." Before his entrance
into the major leagues, the president was virtually a man alone on a
private stage. When his audience grew larger, he still believed he
could end the rancor in Washington and inspire a new bipartisanship.
But sincerity moved to hypocrisy when that stage got crowded, and he
was called on to deliver satisfactory answers to an unmanageable
audience. Smooth rhetoric covers a multitude of rough edges until the
rhetoric must produce legislation.
During the campaign, John McCain demonstrated a much greater
understanding of Washington than his unseasoned opponent did, but
experience didn't count for much in 2008. When the economy crashed and
McCain suggested calling off a scheduled debate to stay in Washington
to study what to do about it, he was mocked for lacking leadership. At
the least he showed that he knew what he didn't know. Barack Obama
still hasn't learned that.
The polls now show that Americans no longer believe the president's
rhetoric over health care. The president's approval ratings continue to
tank. Left, right and independent men and women are dismayed. Only he
sounds like a true believer in himself, that he's delivering what's good
Describing ObamaCare as genuine reform, he told us "the American people
will have the (health care) they deserve … ." A cynic would say he's
right about that.