|Monday, August 9, 2004
13:44 - The Blame Train
Kevin at Chinpokomon.com has a hilarious roundup of stories being stirred up in the wake of what John Kerry may as well be calling his "Pissing Off America" railroad tour. His campaign train keeps blasting through whistle-stop destinations, leaving sign-waving supporters and cancer-suffering children long-faced and disappointed on the platform.
Predictably, "Campaign officials blamed the conductor for failing to slow down."
Is it just me, or is this becoming a theme of the Kerry campaign? We are never wrong? We don't make mistakes? Is that the message they think they're sending?
Hint, guys: it's not working.
You blame your Secret Service detail for knocking you down on the ski slopes. You blame a journalist asking an honest question for "smearing" Teresa over her "un-American" comment. You blame a Republican attack machine for creating the Swift Vets out of thin air to impugn what had previously been seen as an unimpeachably honorable military record. And now you're blaming the conductor for not slowing down the train?
How hard is it to simply admit to a mistake? How damaging do you think it would be to say that, for instance, "There was a mixup in our planning" or "We had problems communicating our whistle-stop directions to the conductor"?
I've written before about this: a "pathological need to be right", characteristic of the likes of Michael Moore, John Kerry, and, indeed, a great many people I've known throughout my life who seem to have gotten it into their heads that the most important thing in the entire world is to be seen as infallible—that the slightest admission of being wrong about anything is tantamount to admitting utter defeat about everything.
Not only do we have an innate desire to be right all the time-- we also seem to have an odd presumption that it's better to be right all the time, because that will make us better liked and better respected.
It's been one of the hardest life lessons for me to learn, that this is not the case.
Admitting you're wrong about something not only doesn't generally detract from how well respected a person is; it often makes him better liked. I mean, come on. We all know that one butthole in our social circle who can simply never admit defeat in an argument. What happens over time? Do people get to respect him more, defer more to his opinion, whether he's right or wrong? Or does the guy gradually stop getting invited to parties?
If someone can never say those three simple words, I was wrong—then he's immature. That's what I must conclude. If someone in my social circle is relentlessly insistent upon everything that goes wrong being someone else's fault, then it means he's not mature enough to face up to failures—which, naturally, precludes learning from such failures.
And I don't want a President who's as immature as that guy who stops being invited to one's parties.
Kris tells me of a Nova show in which a famous astronomer had discovered a new planet; he'd written up a long and groundbreaking report, which he was prepared to give to a packed house at a major science convention. Then, the night before the keynote speech, the scientist discovered a mistake in his calculations: he hadn't discovered a new planet after all. In horror, he checked and rechecked his numbers, and it was true: all he had to present to the breathlessly waiting audience was an error.
So what did he do? Did he fudge the facts? Did he blame an assistant for taking bad data? Did he skip the country? No—he went up on stage before the thousands of his peers, cleared his throat, and told them all that the discovery that he'd prepared to show them was false after all. He showed them his research, presented the now-meaningless report, and submitted himself for the mortifying judgment of the room.
He got a standing ovation. A long, loud one. And now his character is so far beyond reproach that his peers will hurl themselves before a moving train for him.
If only our politics judged character by integrity the way the scientific community does, eh? If only politicians placed honesty above this need to present an incorrupt face to the public—which the public could always see through anyway? If only our leaders would admit to being human!
I may not be paying enough attention, but I haven't seen any statements from the Kerry campaign—on any subject—that admit to mistakes or miscalculations of any kind. Kerry, it's becoming more and more clear, takes himself way too seriously for that. I've seen no evidence of the kind of self-effacing humor that characterizes Bush; indeed, since today's pop-culture society values self-effacing humor so highly, I find that to be vaguely ironic. If only Kerry had been able to say, for example, "Oops, I took a spill there. Hey, I can faceplant with the best of 'em!" He doesn't think that would have ruined his shot at the Presidency, does he?
But I get the feeling that if either of the candidates is in a position to claim to be "humble" on the world stage, Kerry's no more likely to be willing to admit to American fault than Bush is—probably a lot less so, in fact. Most Americans feel that we have nothing to apologize for regarding Iraq; but a Kerry presidency, if it shares anything with Kerry's own life, is going to involve its own fair share of embarrassments and failures. If Kerry stands before the nation or the UN in the wake of some scandal and points at scapegoats, we'll know we've elected someone with no more intellectual maturity than the kid who kicks all his friends out of his parents' basement when the D&D game goes sour.
The Democrats are going to have to learn to accept their own faults, if they want to be taken seriously by the rest of the country. America isn't "theirs" by right, their sniveling assertions to that effect notwithstanding. They're going to have to earn it. And that means showing some understanding that the American spirit is fundamentally about owning up to mistakes and failures, because that's an inseparable part of the freedom to succeed that we cherish in this country. If the Democrats can't reconcile themselves with that principle, then they don't deserve to inherit the reins of the nation: they won't have any idea where to steer it... but they'll never stop to ask directions, either.