Doc Rioux At Large

Newt and Bill and human imperfections

Richard "Doc" Rioux · January 5, 1997

Should Newt Gingrich be prevented from being elected to a second term as Speaker of the House of Representatives because he failed to comply with House rules on the use of private non-profit money to teach college students about Republican politics? No.

Should Bill Clinton be impeached for allegations of adultery when he was governor of Arkansas or for the actions of the Democratic Party regarding the acceptance of illegal campaign contributions from foreign investors in 1996? No.

I mean, I don't particularly think it was a good idea for Newt to have ignored legal advice that said he should not use tax-exempt funding to advance a Republican political agenda in a college course he taught, but to be forced out of office for it by Democrats who have their own ethical problems over campaign financing is ridiculous.

I think it was pretty sleazy for Democrats to "rent out" rooms in the White House to campaign contributors with big checkbooks, but I also recognize that politics and big money go hand in hand in America and there isn't much we can do about it. It takes big money to get elected and big money to stay in office at almost every level of American politics.

This brings me to the matter of human imperfection. I have not yet met the perfect human being. If you have, please let me know his name, because I sure would like to meet him. I can't think of a leader in American history who did not make mistakes. There isn't a reporter or columnist for any newspaper in the country who hasn't reported something incorrectly or said something they later admitted they would have been better off not writing to begin with.

The nature of the human condition is one of imperfection. Men and women who try to do things right are often plagued by the pressures of time, absence of complete information and the occasional physical headache. They make mistakes. It's tough to be a public official exercising your public responsibilities with a press watching your every move to report your every misstep.

Self-righteous leaders are not necessarily effective politicians. I would venture to say that the most effective leaders in American political history have been the ones able to bend the rules and make a deal in order to get things done. Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich have a lot more in common than one might think at first glance. Though they have strong ideological differences on the role the federal government should play in American society, they are both practical politicians who know how to make an incredibly complicated constitutional system work.

Both men know that it is one thing to articulate your party's position on an issue, and it is an entirely different matter to compromise in the trenches in order to produce a piece of legislation that can help solve a problem. The two sides are never completely happy with the result, and the result is always imperfect because it is the product of an imperfect legislative process driven by imperfect human beings monitored by and imperfect body of reporters working for imperfect organizations mandated to report the system's imperfections. Perfection doesn't make for good news. Imperfection sells newspapers. It's the blemishes in the process that readers like to read and hear about most.

None of us likes to admit our own imperfections, not even in the quiet of our own bedrooms in front of the mirror, let alone have them reported in public. The most popular sections of The Signal are the letters to the editor and anonymous call-ins. Why? Well, it's because we humans are drawn to scandal and fault in others like vultures to wounded calves in the African bush.

I really do believe that we need to cut our elected leaders a lot more slack than we have been prone to do. There isn't a newspaper in this country that doesn't have its own internal problems. There isn't a corporation in this country that doesn't bleed internally, where people are not messing up in so many ways. It's hard to be in the public arena and place your lives and destiny in a fish bowl for everyone to see and monitor. Public officials and public personalities stay awake many a night wondering what the heck is going to be said about them in tomorrow's headlines.

Any house upon which it rains for too long will spring a leak. Any public official in office for a long time trying to get things done will show his blemishes.

I hop the House of Representatives makes Newt Gingrich the Speaker again on January 7th. Bill Clinton will be president for four more years. The Republicans must work with the president for the good of the country. All our elected officials -- Republicans or Democrats -- must simply stop attacking one another on the basis of character differences. Let them debate the issues with passion instead of counting the number of pimples on the other guy's face.

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