A blog dealing with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Skeletons in my closet

My father acquired a skull for me probably when I was around 12, no doubt to spur my interest in archaeology. The skull came from South America and I was told it was from the Andes, but I have no idea from what culture or even what country. In the 60's people like my father weren't very concerned with the appropriateness of acquiring bones from another continent, but now most people would balk at this behavior. At this point I feel a little weird about having it, but, with my father dead, there is no practical way to repatriate it back to wherever it came from.  

Somewhere else I also have a tooth from a Sperm Whale. My father acquired that probably about the same time when I was fascinated with whaling. Of course, having a Sperm Whale tooth is like having an elephant tusk -- a haunting legacy from a time when taking these animals was considered appropriate. Since I acquired it prior to the adoption of the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, it is not technically a violation, but, like the skull, it exists as a tangible, regrettable reminder of past transgressions.

When I started contemplating running for office several people recommended I pay for a background check on myself, " to find out what the opposition will find out" about myself. Sobering thought. I made a list of all the ways I could remember elected officials getting in trouble: DUI's, racist remarks, falsified credentials, sexual improprieties, illegal drug use, payoffs, physical violence, domestic abuse, hanging out with known criminals, etc. I think I ended up with about a dozen potential topic headings and ran through my own personal history with some trusted members of my team. There were a few pings, but in the opinion of those present -- no fatal flaws. No doubt if people dig around they will discover my arrest record, my traffic accident, and who knows what else that is part of the public record. 

These probes are apparently part of contemporary politics, although I have no stomach for or interest in this sort of scrutiny of whoever I end up running against.

I, of course, am aware of past transgressions for which there is no record, save in my brain. The time I pulled out on a rain-soaked stretch of 41 and caused another car to swerve and fishtail, nearly causing an accident. That was dumb. The promotional boxes of TIDE or some such detergent that had been left on neighborhood door knobs that I felt were abandoned and brought home to my mother. [ She had me re-hang them.] The time I painted my father's duck hunting clothes with green enamel paint in an effort to make them more camouflaged. The borrowed books that for whatever reason never got returned. People I didn't mean to hurt who got hurt anyway. Early forays into lying before concluding the effort was too great and the rewards too meager.

I imagine we all carry around a legacy of past mistakes, sins and transgressions; some more guilt-soaked and regretful than others. 

I can only hope voters understand that people don't run for public office because they think they are faultless, but rather in spite of the fact that they know they are imperfect. 

I imagine every candidate in every race nationwide has made mistakes. Its actually a little frightening to imagine voting for someone who never did. So the question is not so much about what exactly happened but what was learned. Did it lead to a new, more appropriate life or was it just another episode in an ongoing pattern of problems? Some repeated transgressions, no doubt, do reflect on one's ability to serve.

And yet.

We saw Charlie Wilson's War the other night.  I don't know the level of veracity in the movie, but clearly this was a profane, womanizing, coke-using legislator, who (if we are to believe the premise of the movie) may be responsible for the defeat of Russia in Afghanistan, if not the fall of the USSR. Makes you wonder where we would be if the nation's outrage or propriety dials had been turned up a little higher during the 80's. 

I have yet to be exposed to the gauntlet of public scrutiny some say is inevitable. Others suggest that taking the time and money to actually research an opponent's past is old-fashioned, that modern campaigns simply make things up. We'll see. Those of us willing to dare the glare of the public spotlight are apparently no longer protected by the biblical exhortation limiting stone throwing to those without sin. 

Bottom Line:  I can't appropriately return the Andean skull or put the tooth back in the whale. We can't undo what has been done, only can we resolve to do better. I'm not proud of everything I have done in my life, but I refuse to let my potential to be helpful be held hostage by the inevitability of human fallibility.

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