Sunday, August 24, 2008

John Edwards Affair: Lawyers, Clergy, Hubris and Breaking Trust

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Counselors. Counsel. Advice and Counsel. Those in the exalted position of offering counsel possess a power which must be exercised prudently. Where a conflict between personal and public interest arises, the counselor must act for the good of all, not for selfish, debased reasons.

Doctors, lawyers, and clergy are three professions that carry a special obligation of trust and responsibility, not only to their clients, but to society; three professions that require, as a condition to admittance into the chamber of secret knowledge, oaths vowing to act for the good of others. People turn to doctors, lawyers and clergy at vulnerable times, with problems that go beyond a mere human's capabilities to handle and require the advice and counsel of someone who has vowed to act honorably, help others and rise above corrupting influences.

Doctors, you are off the hot seat today. But lawyers and clergy, Oh My!

Lawyers and clergy can really mess with the mind. They can cause society to lose faith in what is the right thing to do, and the right thing to expect of others. "Everbody's doin' it, doin' it" might work for adolescents, but not for those wearing the mantle of counselor. We hate it when the bad behaviors of clergy, whether Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart or predatory priests, are uncloaked. We hate it when the lies of lawyers who have taken upon themselves the mantle of public trust, whether Nixon, the Clintons or Edwards, are uncloaked.

True, it means they are just people - - just like us - - but these phonies have preached to us about the right thing for us to do, used their perfect lives as a template on which to pattern our own mean existence, and we have trusted them to handle our problems and help us to cope with our vulnerabilities. By circumstance and necessity they must be held to the highest standard.

Clergy and lawyers are both admired and despised because we need them in the worst times of our lives, and they have to be trusted at those most vulnerable times. They can be honorable, protecting and helping us, at which times we admire them, and hope our children go to law school or seminary and gain admittance into the chamber of secret knowledge. Or they can use their power for their own selfish reasons, deceiving and hurting us.

The only people who benefit no matter which end of the spectrum the behavior occupies are John Grisham and journalists. They can spin a good tale from either extreme of behavior, and an excellent tale when an esteemed counselor's behavior takes a roundtrip between the extreme poles. The tale can run from north to south - - "Whee, I just fell from Grace!" (or "I just fell off Grace!") It can travel from south to north by a number of routes, guided by one's moral compass - - the blue highways routes of responsibility, reflection and quiet work to rehabilitate one's self, or the express route of confession, immediately followed by turning the wheel over to God.

"Men think with their pants, not their brains" and "it's a private family matter" are illogical, patently silly excuses. If the brains - pants dichotomy was a logical excuse, predatory priests would be off the hook because they don't think with their brains. In the Edwards case, neither excuse is applicable because the culpable acts are not the sex or the affair. Rather, the bad acts are the months of lying to the public and supporters, and the sin of hubris exercised by all involved in the matter and the cover up.

Hubris is one of those hard, not-used-every-day words, so it is tempting to say, "Sin of Hubris? Okay, take the express route. Confess just far enough to squeak through, and then turn the whole problem over to God. You'll see absolution straight ahead in about 10 minutes."

But it isn't that easy. Hubris is a serious personality flaw. It has made these people untrustworthy. They have a chronic case of bad judgment, both over the prolonged period of the cover-up and the intense, panicky period at the end, which birthed the confession (with limited warranty where applicable) and started Chapter Two of the cover-up chronicles. Shouldn't these people have refrained from dumping this hubris mess on the heads of the unknowing public and supporters (unknowing except for supporters with jets and moola)?

They intentionally suckered the public and supporters. What they were "reille-y" saying was, "Please donate so I can pay a sultry videographer/roadie and her hotel bills on the road. Please donate so We can reign in photogenic marital harmony and "most admired" status over all the Land. Please donate so our special interest squad of air-borne lawyers can exert big influence and bomb any tort reformers. Just please, please donate, and p.s. judge us by our empty words, not our actions."

In the next national crisis, would you want a president with great hair and hubris galore, who would be in denial, and lie and stall, then panic and fall apart at the critical moment? A president whose friends and family were enablers? Sounds like a good story line for "24," both Nixonian (except the hair part) and Clintonesque to keep it non-partisan.

by Phil Ander
images: jungbauer

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