Opinion columnists, like the rest of humanity, walk a fine line between judgment (holding people accountable to a standard we did not create) and judgmentalness (thinking ourselves morally superior because we haven't committed the acts of others).
Since writing of my friendship with the late Senator Edward Kennedy, I have been flooded with responses. Some have been kind, but many -- perhaps a majority -- have heaped on me the revulsion these writers also heaped on him. Perhaps the unkindest cut of all was the writer who accused me of "going wobbly."
That many on the Left continue to dance on the grave of Richard Nixon and revile George W. Bush does not give the Right permission to engage in eye for an eye behavior. Many on the Right invoke the name of Jesus on Sunday and tear down a politician whose policies they don't like the rest of the week. Tearing down policy is fine, but diminishing the value of a fellow human simply because you don't like his politics (or his personal behavior) is not a good strategy for persuading him to change either. It also raises the level of invective, which is injurious not only to our politics but to the one contributing the invective.
What am I trying to accomplish when I engage in criticism? Do I want to present superior arguments I hope my political opponent will at least consider, if not adopt, or is my objective simply to make me feel better by engaging in moral superiority? If it's the latter, I am committing the sin of pride, which goes before all the others.
Senator Kennedy's list of sins are well known, from sexual promiscuity, to offering help to Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov in exchange for his assistance in defeating Ronald Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. The latter act is properly criticized, even denounced. The former can easily fall into the judgmental category.
Public exposure of private sins reminds us of our own cover-ups. Each of us is capable of doing what Senator Kennedy did, given the right circumstances and opportunity. This doesn't excuse them. It does explain them.
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