Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ignoring Character Flaws

While on vacation in Hawaii, President Obama said some nice things about Michael Vick's return to the NFL. He cast is as an example of convict-makes-good. There was never any question about Vick's abilities as a football player. What is in question are his qualities as a human being. Remember, he went to jail for dog-fighting. His hobby was watching dogs kill each other and he personally killed under performers. Vick claims to have reformed and has even asked to be allowed to own a dog as part of his recovery. If he has actually learned to form an attachment to dogs then this would be far more worthy of mention than his abilities on the football field.

There is a human tendency to overlook flaws in our heroes. The more we agree with someone the more willing we are to overlook their flaws. President Obama fell victim to this tendency.

Another, more important example is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and the charges against him. Several celebrities starting with Michael Moore contributed to Assange's bail. They insist that Assange did nothing wrong and that the charges against him are political.

A lot of misinformation was tossed around about the charges, even before they were filed. Basically Assange had sex with two women. Both of them made it very clear that they only consented to sex if he wore a condom. The first woman's complaint was that he eventually put one on but she was convinced that it was torn. Presumably Assange knew if it was or not but he did not let her examine it.

The second woman's complaint is stronger. Again, she insisted on a condom. After sex, the two of them fell asleep. Assange woke up first and decided to have a second go at her without a condom. This would be murky under US law although many colleges would count it as rape. It is better-defined under Swedish law where it took place and is a crime there.

Wikileaks provokes emotional responses. Supporters of the leaks are willing to forgive the leakers almost anything. Glenn Greenwald of Salon has been attacking Wired for revealing details about the actual leaker.

These emotions lead to double-standards. President Obama may slip and say that there are 57 states but the general press does not cover it. Sarah Palin slips and says North Korea instead of South Korea during a live radio show and it is reported for weeks, even though she corrected herself later in the show. The difference - the media admires Obama and hates Palin.

Going back further, many Democrats held that Clarence Thomas was unfit to be a Supreme Court justice because one woman complained that he used crude language around her amounting to sexual harassment. When women came forward and said that Bill Clinton had used his authority as governor to coerce sex from them, there was a stunning silence from these same Democrats. The head of the NOW even offered to give him oral sex because he kept abortion legal.

The point of this is that laws and mores have to apply evenly to everyone. We cannot have exceptions for heroes. The President should not be applauding Vick and Moore should not judge Assange's sexual behavior based on his political actions.

No comments: