Kathryn Lopez

"Couldn't we have one?"

That was Chuck Todd's question as he hosted his political geek show, "The Daily Rundown," on MSNBC one recent morning. Todd was moderating a panel discussing former New York congressman Anthony Weiner's insistence on running for office despite a history of tweeting his private parts, coupled with former governor Eliot Spitzer's eagerness for political comeback as New York City comptroller, despite the prostitution scandal that ended his tenure upstate. Politicians are neither princes nor role models. But, really, couldn't someone be a role model, Todd dared to dream?

Role models exist, of course, but don't always make news as much as people in the throes of scandal. So why wouldn't we have the politicians stubbornly and defiantly insisting that embarrassing and criminal choices really shouldn't have long-term consequences? They don't necessarily make pleas for forgiveness and redemption so much as they do for tolerance. Shame isn't an entirely bad thing, though. Not when it makes us self-aware enough to expect better and value -- and mold -- character.

But instead, we raise kids to not even know they can have better, that they should demand better. And so we wind up with a Glamour magazine poll determining that women consider John F. Kennedy "The Sexiest Man (Not) Alive." Given what we know about him in the light of history, you'd think we'd want better.

Is it any surprise that if we'd settle for infidelity, we've lost sight of what we owe one another?

In a homily the other day on the Sicilian island Lampedusa -- off the coast of Tunisia, which is currently overflowing with "Arab Spring" refugees, many of them Muslim -- Pope Francis talked about the man we walk by and think "poor guy."

"We are accustomed to the suffering of others, it doesn't concern us, it's none of our business," he said.

If we happen to even bother to think "poor guy," if we happen to look up from our iPhones enough to notice him, we've become all too comfortable insisting someone else help. We feel good about ourselves if we contribute to the latest disaster relief fund or sign petitions that we pretend can work miracles. But it is in civil society where our common humanity is realized.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.