EDITOR’S VIEWPOINT/Is forgiving divine?
Possibly the most charitable gesture in life is to forgive someone, and nowhere is forgiveness more welcome than in American politics. Take Bernie Kerik, ostensively a loyal public servant who earned respect as New York’s police commissioner following the attacks on the World Trade Center. Last year, with the blessing of his former boss, Rudolph Giuliani, Kerik found himself soaring toward the powerful position as head of the Department of Homeland Security, until, of course, his nanny’s immigrant status was uncovered.
And, as often is the case, once the sheets have been pulled back, reporters go after the pants too. Information about Kerik’s mistresses, professional career, and other legal and ethical issues surfaced. Despite his questionable behavior, the president invited him to the recent inaugural, and it appears that at least one group, the American Correctional Association, has forgiven his transgressions enough to offer him the keynote address at this year’s winter conference.
The first episode of nanny-gate ended in much the same way. You may remember in 1993, when Bill Clinton nominated Zoë Baird for Attorney General. It turned out that Baird had never paid her nanny’s Social Security taxes. Today, Baird is president of the Markle Foundation and serves on several non-profit and corporate boards, including the Chubb Corporation, the Brookings Institution and IBM’s World Grid Community Advisory Board. Not bad for a person whose private indiscretion resulted in a public humiliation.
Just when you think that neither presidents Clinton nor Nixon ever will be excused from their misdeeds — either because of the position they held or the trust they betrayed — lying to a jury or being complicit in a burglary still had its payoff. Both presidents were publicly cleansed by the ocean of money earned through speaking engagements.
Redemption has even touched Marion Barry, the former mayor of Washington who disgraced his office in 1990 by being arrested for smoking cocaine in a hotel room. He was once quoted as saying, “I am a great Mayor. I am an upstanding Christian man. I am an intelligent man. I am a deeply educated man. I am a humble man.” Now, thanks to the voters in Ward 8 last year, where he won a council seat, he can say that he is a forgiven man.
Then there are the transgressions that transcend ordinary forgiveness, those that deeply divide a country, for example. At the end of his presidency, Lyndon Johnson found himself in the unenviable position of leaving office disgraced by a poorly calculated war that had damaged both the economy and his people. During the recent presidential election, we witnessed some of Johnson’s legacy — 35-year-old wounds that have yet to heal. In his case, and maybe in another more current one, forgiveness may only be divine.