The sins of the self-righteous

will always be magnified!


 IT’S more like a sad song sung in the round: you forgot to practice what you preached, broke your own rules.

It is hard even to level the charge of hypocrisy without becoming guilty of it yourself.

World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz amassed a legion of enemies as the very militant muse behind the Iraq invasion. They pursued him as he migrated from the Pentagon to the World Bank, promising a war on poverty and corruption.

So evidence that he arranged his girlfriend’s $6o,ooo raise invited critics to pounce: How can we fight cronyism abroad if we practice it at home? Some opponents suggested that whatever the facts of the case, the very fact of the scandal made it impossible for him to remain effective in his job.

To Wolfowitz, of course, those critics never wanted him to be effective in the first place, since they shared neither his principles nor his priorities . He won’t be just forced out, he told the bank panel investigating the case, but clear him of these bogus charges, and then he will consider whether to go quietly.

There wasn’t much choice for the British Petroleum chief who smeared his gay lover to protect himself, or for the Administration’s “AIDS czar, Randall Tobias, 65 and a father of four, who resigned after his name surfaced in the case of Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the “D.C. madam” charged with racketeering. She now denies running a brothel; he denies getting anything more than a massage. But that was sufficient to sink him, since his mission was promoting abstinence and fighting prostitution.

In these cases the symbol is the sin: Congressman Mark Foley was the Capitol Crusader against pedophilia before his own leering e-mails surfaced; virtuecrat Bill Bennett’s gambling habit started with church bingo; Al Gore just now got permission to install solar panels on his house, which has been reported to use 20 times the energy of an average size home.

IF THERE IS AN ANTIDOTE TO HYPOCRISY, IT’S HUMILITY: just admitting the possibility of weakness can be a source of strength. As any number of fallen icons can testify, the arrogant and the righteous have the most trouble finding forgiveness when the mistake, duly confessed, is their own.




TIME Magazine

May 14, 2007 (pg. 23)

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