The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, May 19, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's blog at The Huffington Post website.

Mastering the Political Arts: How Not To Take Responsibility

Given the constant revelations of sexual contra temps and financial shady dealings, politicians have developed multitudinous ways to avoid being held accountable for their behavior. In recent days, we have witnessed two versions of the fine art of evasion -- one by a Republican Congressman, the other by a Democratic Senatorial candidate.

Contract with America veteran and family values advocate, Indiana Republican Rep. Mark Souder, resigned suddenly when an affair he had with a staff member surfaced. Let's count the methods he used to evade responsibility:

  • Delay admitting to anything until you are about to be outed: "All the way through his election, Souder tried to knock down the affair story, calling it revenge politics at play. But the backroom chatter in Indiana and among the GOP on Capitol Hill became too much to survive."
  • Provide no details: Even though you are supposedly confessing and apologizing, don't admit to anything. One could only learn what Souder's "mistake" was by reading the political gossip pages.
  • Claim your resignation is nobly motivated: "I am resigning rather than put my family through a painful drawn out process" (not because he was an Evangelical Christian caught cheating on his wife with an employee half his age); Souder also "confessed" that he didn't want his "mistake" to be used "as a political football in a partisan attempt to undermine the cause for which I have labored all my adult life."
  • Blame your situation on (a) the other party, (b) the press, (c) Washington: "In the poisonous environment of Washington, D.C., any personal failing is seized upon and twisted for political gain."
  • Minimize, minimize, minimize: For example, mention that the woman you were screwing was only "a part-time member of my staff" - heaven forbid he shtup a full-time staffer!

Democratic Connecticut Attorney General and Senatorial candidate Richard Blumenthal, on the other hand, relied on the tried and true method of first averring you will take "full responsibility" for your actions, and then, in the very next sentence, minimizing your acts and denying responsibility -- "On a few occasions I have misspoken about my service, and I regret that and I take full responsibility. But I will not allow anyone to take a few misplaced words and impugn my record of service to our country."

So, lying about his military service so that everyone believed he had served in a war front is a "few misplaced words." How about a real confession, like,

I admit that I often felt small and inconsequential next to real heroes who put their lives on the line, while I received deferment after deferment and finally sought a cushy stateside military deployment as my final step in staying out of the actual war. Although I wish I were brave enough to actually fight - like my own son - I am not. It is really an expression of my admiration for our fighting men and women that made me falsely represent myself and allow others to take away a wrong impression of how brave and selfless I am.

There, that wasn't so hard for a person who wants to be a leader to do, was it? Of course, this is utter fantasy -- we will never witness such a confession by a public figure. If they had that kind of guts and integrity, they wouldn't be who they are - our elected representatives!