Thursday, December 10, 2009

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Maggot

It occurs to me as I watch the ever-weirder and increasingly-uncomfortable details of the Tiger saga emerge that we are - as a society - getting a bit of our own just rewards. What really sparked this thought was the news of a new book coming out in February revealing all of the sordid details of the John Edwards affair.

So why are we getting what we deserve? Well, to be clear, I should start by saying it isn't ENTIRELY our fault. Just as it isn't ENTIRELY an alcoholic's fault for falling off the wagon, even as his friends drag him into a beer-pong tournament.

What we've learned in the last few days is simple: Tiger Woods is a whiny, foul-mouthed, skirt-chasing malcontent. He also happens to be the greatest golfer ever to live, and herein lies the problem for us. We've been lulled into believing that Tiger Woods is everything we want our kids to be, when in fact none of us knows ANYTHING about him besides 1) what we see on the golf course, and 2) what sponsored TV ads tell us. I call this parenting by Buick. Remember the “Be Like Mike” campaign? Seriously?

The same problem applies - though in a more subtle and complex way - to our elected officials. However, the consequences for us are MUCH worse. Ironically, as media scrutiny has gotten tougher and more pervasive, one could argue the professional quality of those who are left standing in the race for elected office has declined; I mean seriously, what upstanding civically-minded do-gooder would want to subject his or her family to the rabid voyeuristic feeding frenzy of the mass media and 24 hour news cycle?

What modern media and its pursuit of the hottest news story HAS left us is a bunch of people, of varying moral fiber, who are unable to do what we most need them to because they must spend their time worrying about doing the things that WE all do without fear of public scrutiny (and embarrassment). Which is a damn shame, because some of the smartest, most talented, decent people in the world have every reason to NOT run for office, in many cases leaving us with, well, just read a newspaper and fill in the blank.

That isn't to say everyone who runs for office is a dirtbag. I personally know that many of the people who run for elected office are decent, intelligent, hard working patriots. But all too often, the human foibles that we are all guilty of, such as vanity, hardheadedness, even infidelity, somehow become benchmarks, measuring sticks, for how we evaluate our elected officials. If I wanted a paragon of moral virtue to be my elected Member of Congress, I would vote for my rabbi, your priest, perhaps even your grandmother. But what I WANT from my elected officials is an acute mind, a dedication to public service, and a willingness to make tough decisions in the face of terrifying policy choices. Why is that so terrible?

Now, when we evaluate our sports heroes to a lofty position of “virtuous role model,” that just makes us look foolish. But when we do that to the people we choose to make and execute laws, that just makes us stupid. These are lawyers, doctors, travelling salesmen, even pest control experts. But their JOB is to make laws. That's all.

So whether it's Tiger Woods or John Edwards or any other well-known celebrity-type figure, it's high time that we take a little responsibility for the culture we ourselves have created and enabled, one that holds people to a set of standards that have very little to do with what they SHOULD be focused on, and reevaluate what is truly important. As a parent, my job is to teach my children what is right and wrong, how to be a good neighbor and good citizen. That isn't something I want to leave up to Tiger Woods, nor to John Edwards. But as long as we allow our media-mad society to put others in a role that we ourselves should fill, we will continue to suffer by our own hands.