Thursday, September 28, 2006

More kindling for the bonfire of the Vanities

It's kind of a given that politicians have gigantic egos.

Givens are not always truths.

I don't think it's the case that it's their egos we're talking about when we see someone like Jeanine Pirro, the Republican candidate for Attorney General here in New York, self-destruct in a public display of hubris, anger, vindictiveness, and a complete contempt for the laws that as the one-time Westchester County district attorney she'd sworn to uphold.

I say public but Pirro didn't mean to have an audience of more than one. She goofed when she tried to enlist Bernie Kerik in her plans to spy on her philandering husband. She didn't know that Kerik's own habits of ignoring inconvenient laws had attracted the attention of the Feds who had his phone bugged.

Excerpts from the transcript show Pirro afflicted by a severe case of the It's all about ME's!, which, by the way, I think is understandable for a person whose spouse has been humiliating her with a series of adulteries and, not incidentally, risking her political career through his self-indulgence.

Of course, Pirro isn't an ordinary betrayed wife. She's a public figure with not just an image to maintain but responsibilities, to her party, to her staff, to her constituents, to the State of New York. Her feelings are natural and we can all sympathize with her anger and her pain, but she has a duty to keep a lid on them. It's her job not to let her personal life take control of her public life.

So you could say that in trying to drag Kerik into this---and, although I don't feel the least bit sorry for him, he has enough problems of his his own; she's supposed to be his friend---she let her ego get in the way of her good judgment.

But I think ego's the wrong word.

The right word is vanity.

Ego can be partly defined as one's self-regard, and so can vanity, but that doesn't do justice to either word. Ego isn't self-love as much as it's self-respect. Our ego doesn't just include our sense of who we are, it includes the kind of person we are striving to be. It includes our determination to get there and the discipline to accomplish it. It is that part of us that exercises self-control.

The ego stands a bit aloof, objectively watching our lives unfold, stepping in to hold things together, or put them back together, when the other, weaker parts of our nature explode and tear our psyches apart.

Vanity is that part of us that tells us we are the most important person in the world, the part that is always asking in a demanding whine, What about MY needs?

Ego is that part of us that says that the kind of person we are matters more than what happens to us. Ego is the part that says, This is not worth making a fool of ourselves over.

A strong ego can make a person arrogant, but it never makes them act silly.

Whether you're a politician, a movie star, a business executive, a famous artist, a blogger with a reputation even, being in the public eye, having power over events or just over a few other people's opinions, having celebrity, having too much money or too much access to other people's money, being flattered all the time, being in any way the sun around which other people's planets revolve, this is all warping. It pulls a person's sense of self all out of shape.

Vanity is that part of you that loves the new you, that thinks, You're worth it, babe.

Ego says, No, this is me, and resists all the tugging and pulling by other people.

Politicians ought to have strong egos. What too many of them have is an out of control sense of self-worth. They are vain.

From Pirro to Joe Lieberman to George Bush, and back through time to Lyndon Johnson, Woodrow Wilson, and on to Aaron Burr and even poor John Adams, the country has had to put up with the outsized Vanity of too many politicians, great and small, while we've lucked out by the appearance of a few politicians with titanic egos---Washington, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt.

All this has not much to do with anything, and although it's her own fault that we know all about it, Pirro's soap operatic private life shouldn't be an issue in the election.

Her willingness to use the influence she has as a public figure to serve her own personal needs, however, is a reason to vote against her.

Still, I am mainly interested in this story as a story and Pirro's character as the basis for a character.

This would be the basis for a good if a little trashy movie or an episode of Law and Order or...

...another short story that I should be writing.

Which reminds me. It's almost time for the next installment of the Lance Mannion Tall Tale of the Month Club. Watch your mailboxes early next week.

Meanwhile, there's still time to get this month's short story, A Penance for Tom Mallory, if you're interested in stories about politicians and their vanities.


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