Everyone had a good laugh this week at the expense of Rob Ford, the boorish, drink-sodden mayor of the great city of Toronto who, after months of stalling, finally admitted to having smoked crack cocaine at some point in the past—a disclosure facilitated by an apparent videotape, obtained by police, showing him doing precisely that.
Ford’s explanation was positively and pricelessly Pythonian. “Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine,” he said. “But, am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago.”
The logic is charming, is it not? Yes, I was strung out on coke. But it was only on account of the booze. So don’t get any ideas that I’m some sort of junkie.
To be fair, Mayor Ford did not completely evade responsibility for his unholy act, saying, “To the residents of Toronto, I know I have let you down and I can’t do anything else but apologize.” He did not, however, take the presumably inevitable step of surrendering City Hall. To the contrary, he took the opportunity to announce his plans to run for a second term.
In Kentucky, meanwhile, Senator Rand Paul spent the week batting away accusations of plagiarism, having been found to have lifted passages of his speeches and printed works from others’ and from Wikipedia.
Again, the logic is airtight: Yes, I stole other people’s words and passed them off as my own. But let’s not get distracted from the main point, which is that I have become the target of a witch hunt.
Then there is President Barack Obama, faced with twin indictments relating to the Affordable Care Act—first, that the rollout of the website through which Obamacare is distributed has been an unmitigated disaster, and second, that the president plainly lied in saying, “If you like your current healthcare plan, you can keep it.”
Yes, the website sucks and the promise about keeping your old plan was false. But never mind all of that. Let’s just focus on the positives: The website will eventually work, and the policies you thought you could keep will ultimately be replaced by superior ones.
For all that differentiates the crimes of which these officials stand accused, they are tied together by the weaselly manner in which said officials have responded to said accusations.
In all three cases, you will note, the men have attempted simultaneously to admit guilt and deny full culpability. Their explanations all follow the formulation, “Yes, I did it, but…” So far as they are concerned, they are as much the victims as the perpetrators.
Leave it a politician to not accept responsibility in the process of accepting responsibility.
What is more, the excuse for each transgression is a complete non sequitur, as it relates to the transgression itself.
Mayor Ford would have the good people of Toronto forgive his felonious crack smoking on the grounds that it was brought about by the effects of alcohol. Good luck explaining that to law enforcement.
Senator Paul is surely correct that his current high profile has made him uncommonly vulnerable to dirt-digging by political adversaries. But what on Earth does that have to do with whether the information they have uncovered is true?
As for the commander-in-chief: He can rationalize all he wants about the wonders of the new healthcare exchanges, but it doesn’t make his infinite assurances that one can opt out of them any less of a lie. (He has attempted to atone for this in recent days, but words like “too little” and “too late” nonetheless spring to mind.)
At issue in all of these verbal acrobatics is the principle commonly referred to as “owning it.”
When you have been caught with your hand in the cookie jar, just admit that you were hungry and didn’t think anyone else was in the kitchen. Don’t change the subject. Don’t conjure a list of extenuating circumstances around which your piggy actions can be sorta-kinda justified.
Own it. Take responsibility and take all of it, without the qualifications and childish whining. As a public official, don’t insult the intelligence of your constituents by acting like they can’t see the crumbs on your mustache.
Don’t be a weasel. Be a grownup.