There's a rash of embarrassing behavior going around. It's called I Thought No One Was Looking. It happens when you engage in moderately sinful behavior that you think is OK because it's very unlikely you'll get caught--but when you do, you look like a grade-A ass because you have no excuse.
Exhibit A is Timothy Geithner. Cheated on his taxes. Case closed. "Careless." "Innocent." "Mistake." Whatever. He cheated on his taxes. Even President Smooth couldn't gloss this over. "It's an embarrassment," he said a couple of weeks ago. Truer words never were spoken.
(Note to Tim Geithner: From now on, just assume the IRS is looking.)
I'm not talking about Bill Richardson and his steering of state contracts to campaign donors, or Rod Blagojevich (the Liberace of corruption), or Ted Stevens and his souped-up ski chalet full of "gifts" he alleged he didn't want, or...well, the list just goes on. That stuff is all felony worthy.
Then we have Caroline Kennedy. I'm not talking here about the ridiculous and shifting list of reasons she and her anonymous flacks gave for her "dropping out" of the New York senate sweepstakes. ("My uncle is sick." No, there are tax and "nanny" problems. No, there is an as-yet undisclosed personal reason. Meanwhile, the Governor says, I was never going to pick her anyway.)
I'm talking about the revelations a few weeks ago that she has almost never voted. That is an abdication of civic duty for any American, but just shameful for someone of her pedigree: Father was president. Uncles were US Senators. Two cousins (at least) have served in Congress. When did she not get the memo about how important it is to vote? What possible excuse could she have for not voting? I vote in every single election in my town, every city council race, every Congressional primary, every special referendum election. Her reasoning, I imagine, was: I never thought anyone would notice.
This is about white lies--and maybe a little worse--and it's about context. Cheating on your taxes is not drunk-driving wrong, or adultery wrong, or smoking-near-my-child wrong. But it looks awful dumb when you're suddenly put in charge of the IRS. And you have nothing to say except, "It was an innocent mistake."
Not voting is not the biggest sin in the world either. But for someone who wants to serve in the most select legislative body in the world, it's positively disqualifying. You simply cannot explain that away.
Tim Geithner will, I hope, still have enough credibility to serve as an effective Treasury Secretary and help lead us out of our current mess. Caroline Kennedy, though, is done in politics forever, unless she wants to put in a decade or two on her local school board to regain a shred of believability as someone who cares about public service.
That's my view from up in the frozen north of Hollywood, at least. What say my Tri State readers?