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Columns

April 16, 2011

It's a shame that some folks aren't ashamed

The question just begs to be asked.

"Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

Well, yeah, I suppose so. I mean, who among us hasn't done something _ in my case, probably lots of things _ that if it got out wouldn't result in an accusatory correspondent from "60 Minutes" tapping on the front door?

I don't so much mind people in public life misbehaving. What gets me is that after they're caught and disgraced, they don't have the decency to slink off, never to be heard from again.

"My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go."

So said Shakespeare's King Claudius in "Hamlet," knowing that his prayers are phony and he's not the least bit remorseful about bumping off his brother.

Pretty smart fellow, that Shakespeare. Apparently it was as true in the 16th and 17th centuries as now that prominent people aren't so much sorry about what they did as they are sorry about getting caught doing it.

Another pretty smart fellow who could write a little bit, F. Scott Fitzgerald, said "There are no second acts in American lives."

But Mr. Fitzgerald had it all wrong.

How do we know?

Well, for one thing, Eliot Spitzer has his own TV show on CNN.

As New York governor, Spitzer promised that ethics and integrity would be the hallmarks of his administration. Then, having prosecuted several prostitution rings while state attorney general, he spent about $80,000 on sex with prostitutes and tried to cover up the bank machinations that paid for his trysts.

But there he is on our television screens, a Lazarus brought back to public life by a media culture that doesn't seem to know the difference between fame and notoriety.

Being famous is generally good. Being notorious is bad ... or is it?

Spitzer's revival was quick. So, for that matter was David Vitter's. Vitter, a Louisiana senator who called for Bill Clinton's resignation after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, admitted being a regular client at a house of prostitution in 2007. He got re-elected in 2010.

Recent history has proven that no matter what you do to shame yourself, if you wait around just a little bit, today's society will cut you all the slack you need.

Clinton is a good example. So was Richard Nixon, who years after being forced to resign the presidency for the Watergate cover-up, became a respected authority on foreign policy.

James Traficant was a congressman from Ohio who served seven years in prison for taking bribes, racketeering, filing false tax returns and making his assistants do work on his home and houseboat. After serving his time, Traficant got a radio talk show in Cleveland, then had the gall to run _ and lose _ in a race for his old House seat.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich was so corrupt that he was removed from office in an overwhelming vote by the Illinois legislature and prohibited from ever again holding public office in the state.

The last time we saw "Blago," he was appearing on Donald Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" show.

G. Gordon Liddy was sentenced to 20 years in prison for the Watergate break-in, and was pardoned four years later by Jimmy Carter. Liddy, who twice advised listeners on the best way to kill Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms personnel, has a radio show syndicated in 160 markets and has been a guest panelist for Fox News Channel.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is making a lot of noise about running for president. Newt's first wife said he bugged her about a divorce while she was recovering in a hospital bed from cancer surgery. He denied that but did not dispute that he was having an affair with a woman he later married.

He was cheating on that wife in the mid-1990s with Callista Bisek, a staffer 23 years younger than he was, when he was leading the GOP probe into charging Clinton with perjury about his affairs. Newt married Bisek, and said recently that his love for America was what drove him to his cheating ways.

The list of shameless disgraced politicians goes on and on and on, from John Edwards to William Jefferson to Oliver North to John Ensign to Larry Craig, ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

Infidelities, corruption and avarice we can perhaps understand, and maybe even forgive. But it sure would be nice if all those guys would at least pretend to be ashamed of themselves.

"O shame," said Shakespeare's Hamlet, "where is thy blush?"

Sam Pollak is the editor of The Daily Star. He can be reached at spollak@thedailystar.com or at 607-432-1000, ext. 208.

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