Sunday, December 20, 2020

"He's Not Perfect"

This is an evasion I have grown tired of when people are defending someone's moral behavior, especially a politicians. Yes, of course we know the person in question is not perfect, but that is not the standard we are holding them to.

A woman at my previous church said something like this while defending Bill Clinton in the late 90s. "Oh, we want our leaders to be perfect. It's like when people were so upset with Jimmy Carter said that he lusted after women in his heart in the 1970s." I recalled that pretty well, and my strong impression was that Jimmy was being criticised for campaigning by being interviewed for Playboy, not because he lusted in his heart. It seemed one more convenient rewriting of history. We weren't asking Bill to be perfect. Any amount of lusting in his heart we would have taken in stride.  It was lying to - oh, I'm sorry, misleading a Grand Jury that had conservatives frothing, and even the general public who showed up at the controversy mostly for the sexy stories were upset that he had taken power advantage of a young woman, that they had tried to destroy her reputation, that he had flat-out lied to us on TV, that he had done this in the Oval Office, and that more darkly, it looked like he had treated other women worse than that in the past, using intimidation, violence, maybe even rape.

This on top of cattle futures, legal records from Arkansas showing up inexplicably in the White House, using FBI files for political purposes, and all the rest, month after month.  No, we weren't asking him to be "perfect." Just a whole lot better than he was.

I hear that "not perfect" excuse even on Great Books podcasts about authors. I am not asking that Jean-Jacques Rousseau be regarded as perfect.  I am asking that his abandonment of his children to a foundling hospital not be glossed over when discussion the moral sermons he was giving the rest of us on how society should be structured. The weak excuse is something of a reverse strawman, implying that it is the accusers who are being hypocritical and applying an impossible standard.

The excuse can be used reasonably, which is why people try to steal it to apply unreasonably.  One might say of a boss who pays well, doesn't play favorites, keeps business going and people employed even in hard times, but loses his temper and yells at times that he is "not perfect," if they are advising someone whether to work for him or not. But to use it when he is engaging in criminal acts, or threatening, is to stretch that excuse too far. 

If you catch yourself using it, quickly reflect whether you are using it justly or as an excuse.


Christopher B said...

If anything, that Carter interview provoked pretty much the opposite of the reaction being claimed, as I remember a lot of tittering about his quaintly old-fashioned views on sexual relations.

Sam L. said...

Ain't nobody perfect, but some get closer than others.

Texan99 said...

It would be interested to see how the same people reacted to the notion that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson "weren't perfect" in their history of slave-holding.

james said...

I figure there are two kinds of Christians--those struggling with besetting sins and those that gave up.

I also figure that if I'm looking for perfection, I'm unlikely to find it among those who can't see good.

RichardJohnson said...

I also figure that if I'm looking for perfection, I'm unlikely to find it among those who can't see good.
I am reminded of Bernie Sanders's incessant hectoring about what a bad place the US is.

Bernie Sanders has been condemning the various imperfections of USA for the last 50+ years, implying that if the ignoramuses of the USA would only do what Bernie tells them to do, the various imperfections of the USA would disappear.

Bernie has been quoted many times telling us that Fidel Castro's "not perfect." In practically the same breath, he has told us such gems like he found out that the Cuban people had an "almost religious affection" for Fidel. Yup, Cubans will tell Bernie through their State-supplied translators their candid opinions of Fidel. That's what Bernie believes, or would have the ignoramuses of the US believe. After all, there is free speech in Cuba. Right, Bernie?

Or, Bernie tells us that "not perfect" Fidel had those great literacy programs. The record shows us that in the half century from 1960, Cuba's increase in literacy ranked 16th out of 20 in Latin America. Which brings up 2 points that Bernie pointedly ignores in his gushing over Comandante Fidel. First, one reason for the relative low increase in literacy in Cuba is that in Cuba already had one of the highest literacy rates in Latin America, so it didn't have as much illiteracy to deal with. Second, the vast increase in literacy in other Latin American countries shows that it isn't necessary to install a Cuban style totalitarian regime to improve social parameters such as literacy or public health.

In addition, Bernie's gushing over Fidel's literacy program ignores the regime's censorship. Such imperfections Bernie glosses over.