I sometimes fantasize haranguing participants in a Fourth of July parade by urging them to let go the past and get on with their lives. Same with the annual Good Friday Walk by Catholics to re-enact the crucifixion of Christ. I sometimes imagine the faces of Catholics being told, “Come on, folks, that was almost 2000 years ago. Get over it!”
But I doubt anyone would get the joke. Human nature being what it is, folks tend to hold onto the past when it deals with their accomplishments and their grievances. As for their screw-ups, the New York expression, “Fuhhhhhhgggggeddddabbbbouddditttt” comes to mind. When confronted with allegations of steroid use, retired slugger Mark McGwire responded by saying he prefers to look “forward” instead of backward. Gee, I wonder why.
In this election season, politicians in and out of Alaska are playing the game. Christine O’Donnell is trying to downplay her dabbling with witchcraft as a kid while her opponent is trying to downplay his referring to himself as “bearded Marxist” while in college. Columnist Gail Collins, wisely, I think, suggests “Nothing anyone did in college short of a felony should count against them.”
Collins doesn’t let Joe Miller off so easily. She doesn’t fault him for accepting government help in making a living. But she criticizes him for labeling unconstitutional some of the programs he and his family used to pay their bills.
A quote from Miller in Tuesday’s paper reminded me somewhat of McGuire: “Anything that I’ve done that’s not right, it’s been accounted for and it’s been taken care of and I move on.”
Miller has taken the position that he alone is qualified to determine which events of his past the voters are entitled to know about and which ones they are not. I submit that the voters have right to determine which aspects of his past are relevant and which are not. Miller, in my view, is not entitled to make that choice for them. He says “I learn from mistakes,” but he doesn’t tell us what those mistakes are or what he learned from them.
Miller is not bashful in telling us some of his past: his graduation from West Point, his service in the Army and his bronze star. His political ads show that at least, he has not “drawn a line in the sand” in informing us of some of his job history.
Now, at this point, the usual suspects will accuse me of attacking their favorite candidate and of waging a stealth campaign in favor of his opponents. These suspects have a history of seeing just about everything in terms of “us vs. them” and refusing to see the above as an example of the idea I am writing about.
In fact, I don’t fault Miller and his relatives for availing themselves of the entitlements they've paid for with their taxes. Nor do I find unreasonable his concern with government spending. Nor will I resort to mindless labels like “extremist” or “nut job.”
This essay is not about individuals but about an idea. Of course, the usual suspects will accuse me of the exact opposite because they claim to know my intent more than I do.
The first point about the past is people usually act consistently. We can get a good idea of future behavior by exploring the past behaviors. They are relevant.
The second point about the past is what we can learn from it. When we are honest about the bad things we have done, we learn from them and “move on.” That’s true, not only for individuals, but for countries.
Honestly looking at the past is neither living in the past or wallowing in it. In fact, such intellectual honesty is necessary to avoid repeating it. Drawing a line in the sand by sticking your head in the sand is not “moving on” or “going forward,” but, in fact, being stuck in the past by repeating it.
I really appreciate the comment made the other day by Cliff Lee, the Texas Ranger who struck out 13 New York Yankees in eight innings while limiting the defending World Series champions to two hits and no runs. Lee didn’t want to talk about his accomplishments; instead he wanted to put them behind him and look forward to the next game.
It would really be refreshing if our politicians and politically posturing pundits behaved like that.