I’m trying to think of the right name for the peculiarly Beltway condition whereby the actual harm a politician does to countless numbers of people while in office can be countered by a story of the one time that politician showed basic human decency to one person in a way that didn’t substantially change anything. Lanny Davis offers a great case in point:
As I have written before, I remember sitting next to Bush when we were in the same residential college at Yale (Davenport — he graduated a year after me). I recall an evening when a group of us was sitting in the common room outside the college dining hall after dinner and a fellow Yale student walked by who was known to be gay, but in those days was not “out.” Someone said some ugly homophobic slurs. I didn’t like it, but sat silently. But Bush snapped, saying something like “Hey, knock it off. Why don’t you walk in his shoes awhile and feel what he feels?”
I remember thinking, “Whoa. This guy is much different inside than the fun-loving frat brother partying with me at Delta Kappa Epsilon.” As I watched him grow and evolve over the years, overcoming times of great personal pain and challenge to become a two-time governor of Texas and a two-term president of the U.S., I only came to admire and like him even more than that evening at Yale.
Somehow, in Lanny’s mind, this one time, in
band camp college, when W was nice not a jerk to a gay person is proof that he’s a good and decent person, and completely overwhelms all the political actions he took, later in life, that materially worsened the lives of LGBT people all across the country, like such as:
- Opposing, while governor of TX, any efforts to repeal the state’s anti-sodomy law (the one struck down by the USSC in Lawrence V. TEXAS in 2003)
- Appointing special counsels who invented excuses not to enforce federal anti-discrimination policies with respect to sexual orientation
- Threatening to veto a DEFENSE REAUTHORIZATION BILL AT A TIME WHEN THIS COUNTRY WAS FIGHTING TWO WARS because said bill included the Matthew Shepard Act (expanding federal hate crimes law to cover sexual orientation, among other things) as an amendment, forcing the amendment to be removed (President Obama signed the act into law in 2010)
- Cynically pushing anti-gay marriage referendums during the 2004 presidential campaign in order to whip up turnout among religious conservatives; 11 states passed measures banning gay marriage in 2004, and Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign manager Ken Mehlman has since both come out and apologized for his role in this part of the campaign.
How does the math on this work? How many more gays were tangibly harmed by what Bush did as a politician, compared to that one gay man whose life was marginally improved for a few minutes a long time ago because Bush acted like a decent guy for five seconds?
B-b-but Bush appointed a couple of gay dudes to good jobs, like Mehlman, and his openly gay ambassador to Romania! It’s nice to know that some rich and well-connected LGBT folks could still succeed in George Bush’s Amercia.
Oh, and Bush was nice to his dog, too, so I guess that makes up for everything else.
So what kind of condition does Lanny have, where the thing he witnessed one time is more illustrative of someone’s character than the vastly more impactful things that person has done since then? I think I’m going to go with “sociopathy.”