On Figureheads

Lately, I’ve been formulating a theory.

I realize it’s not often that the “real world” can boast sterling examples of moral character without alternately finding a way to tear that person down. One only has to  look at the way Christopher Hitchins went after Mother Teresa or how Winston Churchill talked trash against Gandhi to realize that even the best people have all kinds of undeserved criticism. (And if you still think I’m misguided here, pick a historical saint or exemplary figure and google that person’s name plus the word “critic.”)

Still, as a sort of self-proclaimed devil’s advocate in all matters of sweeping judgement, I have to wonder how often these critics are justified in seeking those skeletons which may or may not be hidden behind the saintly facade.

Take Gov. Eliot Spitzer, for example. Before the indictments heaped upon him for his involvement in an underaged prostitution ring for the lecherous rich and powerful, he had been setting himself to play Harvey Dent in the “real world” version of Gotham City (New York). Making famous quotes like “I don’t care about motivation. I care about credibility.” he was soon touted as a human hammer that would thoroughly smash immoral political practices and shifty hedge fund management tactics.

But that’s usually when we have to start worrying, isn’t it? Because it wasn’t long at all before he swung that hammer a little too hard–if you know what I mean–and cracked open the dam of secrets and corruption he’d been standing on the ENTIRE time while giving all of those lovely, stirring speeches about cleaning up America. (So it might not have been a barrel of acid, but it smashed his public image pretty thoroughly.)

So here’s the theory that has been brewing, based on cases like Spitzer and Agnew and Nixon and even Glen Beck: Whenever someone sets themself up as a figurehead–or, more specifically, a mouthpiece–for morality or the common good, maybe there’s a really good reason they’re yelling so loudly about the junk and secrets in “everyone else’s” back yard. And maybe it’s not so much about how they’re perceived by the public, or whether they’re beloved by all or hated by the openly corrupt. Maybe it’s just a subtle difference, an equal amount of introspection for every corruption they uncover or chastise. Maybe it’s okay to be a figurehead, as long as you actually LIVE what you PREACH.

Unfortunately, I can only think of a handful of people in recorded history who actually have lived their ENTIRE lives out in the open. I know this is a radical idea, but maybe the ones we continue to herald as perfect only seem that way because they didn’t give us enough opportunities to go spelunking through their closets. Just something to think about…