The Acceptability of Culpability


Once upon a time, in the world of politics, accepting public blame for some untoward incident was a relatively rare occasion. On those occasions, the evidence was typically overwhelmingly against the perpetrator. The guilty party would often go on to live a quiet existence somewhere away from the spotlight.

Unfortunately, most in public life don’t have that option any longer. The Youtube generation publicizes everything from the salacious to the ridiculous to the insane to even the mundane, making it nearly impossible to live outside the bubble, so to speak.

Because of this, or perhaps just along with this, it seems to have become acceptable to be culpable. Am I the only one who’s noticed this? It usually goes something like this…

  1. Rumors surface that Joe Politician is having an affair with a staffer.
  2. Joe Politician denies that the rumors are true.
  3. Evidence surfaces that the rumors are indeed true.
  4. A statement is released saying that Joe Politician doesn’t have any comment at this time.
  5. The story persists as more evidence is uncovered.
  6. Joe Politician has a press conference and admits that the rumors are true and accepts “blame and responsibility” for what has happened.
  7. Joe Politician enters some sort of rehab for his issue, illegal activity, or proclivity.
  8. After leaving rehab, Joe Politician conducts interviews accepting further “blame and responsibility”.
  9. Joe Politician either resumes his career or resigns and takes another position and vows to “serve the public”.

I may have missed a step or two but I think you get the picture. The point is that admitting wrong is no longer about just that, admitting you were wrong and apologizing. It now seems to be more about the process and how to make oneself come out looking good or, at the very least, as good as possible depending upon the transgression.

In many cases, Joe Politician claims they have a disease, that they had little or no control over their behavior. I believe THAT is the impetus behind scenario #7 above. After all, if you had to go into rehab to recover, there must’ve been something else behind the scenes that compelled you to act as you did. Yes, you’re somewhat responsible, but you’re also a victim now, you know. Not a perpetrator. A victim. Therefore, you’re also deserving of some pity and able to deflect at least a bit of the blame, right?

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for those who fall publicly to publicly admit their transgressions. That’s the way it should be, and perhaps it’s my skeptical nature rearing its ugly head, but it rarely seems authentic to me. I also think it’s incumbent on us to accept public apologies like this unless Joe Politician is giving us some other reason to believe otherwise. There should be some sort of restoration for those who fall into public sin. There has to be room for forgiveness. After all, most of us have done something worthy of shame and, if not, you probably will at some point in the future.

Regardless, I remain skeptical of many of these public admittances of culpability. It’s too much of a circus atmosphere going on surrounding these occurrences, making it more of a publicity stunt than a mere press conference or the trappings that go along with it.

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