The old Socratic dictum that no one commits an error if he can help it is hard to place in these times. I was thinking of this early today while watching the “Morning Joe” television program and hearing GOP presidential candidate Hermain Cain’s combative response to allegations that he engaged in sexual harassment when he was leading a restaurant trade association. While the allegations appear to be founded on legal materiality–non-disclosure agreements–Cain argues that he’s the victim of a witch hunt. The willful quality of his response is the error in question. A wiser man might say: “These are settled matters and by decree of the court they cannot be discussed. I affirm my innocence.” We are living in an age when mistakes are judged more useful than standing for upright characteristics like honesty or courage. Blame the media or your political foes if you like, Mr. Cain–certainly Nixon tried this–but commiting an error on purpose won’t solve your problem.
Why can’t we affirm a curious, idiosyncratic sanity in our time? Like it or not, we pretend nowadays that leadership must contain moral qualitites. Idiosyncratic sanity suggests our recognition of our human faults. Perhaps we would welcome that recognition more readily if we lived in a genuinely Christian nation. But of course we don’t. This country is a neo-Puritan labrythinth of rigidity and claustrophobia. The irony is that neo-Puritan claustrophobia is the very metaphorical tiger that Cain and his GOP pals hope to ride.