Less than fairy tale Washington

In the wake of admitting he had an “inappropriate relationship” with fellow attorney, Andrea L. “Andi” Davis, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has chosen to hang his defense on the most cynical of equivocations. McDaniel spokesman Aaron Sadler said McDaniel believes his relationship with the Hot Springs lawyer did not violate the rules of professional conduct for Arkansas lawyers.

What makes the mess all the more unseemly is the fact that Davis has represented clients in five cases in which the attorney general’s office was counsel for opposing parties. Do these people never learn that the appearance of impropriety is as good as impropriety itself?

There are a couple of ancient turns of phrase that place these matters in proper context.

The first comes from Medieval Latin: in flagrante delicto. The literal translation is “the burning crime.” This immolating imagery suggests being caught up in the heat of the moment. Check.

The other apt turn is derived from the ancient Greek word for insolence or sexual outrage: hubris. We generally take hubris to mean an excess of pride or lack of shame, but in this case, the arcane meanings might be more appropriate. Check, again.

In the matter of the present “heat” we can’t really make the “sleeping with the enemy” jab because McDaniel’s dodging euphemism “inappropriate relationship” could mean a whole bunch of different things. Against its opaque rhetorical veil, an inappropriate relationship could be anything from a protracted affair to a conspiracy to rig the church’s bingo night.

It’s not like McDaniel would be lonely in the halls of disgrace. Ousted University of Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino framed some of his transgressions with similar language. We need not even tread down the well-worn path of “depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”

Everybody from Ruddy Giuliani, Elliott Spitzer and Newt Gingrich to the snicker-inducing Anthony Weiner and noted Appalachian hiker Mark Sandford have fallen prey to “inappropriate relationships.”

The only time these “roamers” ever fully cop to what they’ve done is when there’s irrefutable proof. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Edwards.

Why is it that having enough ego to run for elected office often seems to come with other more dubious appetites? Is it that these high and mighty men have started to believe their own press?

Huffington Post blogger Lisa Belkin poses it succinctly: “What is it about powerful men and sex?” Perhaps power in one arena “legitimates” its exercise in others.

In the U.S. we set ourselves up for this kind of routine disappointment. The disappointment doesn’t just manifest when our leaders show themselves to be adulterers. It rears its head in many other ways.

In terms of its historical provenance, the only kryptonite against persistent disappointment is fantasy and myth. Perhaps the best known of these fantastical tales involves George Washington. Invented by “Parson” Mason Weems, the story has a young Washington admitting to cutting down a cherry tree because he “could not tell a lie.”

The story was first published in the fifth edition of Weems’ The Life and Memorable Actions of George Washington (1806). Somehow this canonical portrait of the first president didn’t make the cut for the first four editions.

Of this fairy tale, Houston attorney Michael Coblenz concludes: “This story is pernicious because it diminishes every (subsequent) occupant of the White House, as they, unlike Weems’ mythical Washington, are human and do in fact tell lies.”

Sadly, naïve subscription to quaint myths aren’t the only thing that diminish many of our “less than perfect” leaders.