By David Leibowitz, GSN Columnist
As Election Day approaches, I find myself wondering about how to improve our disgusting, disturbing politics. One thought: We absolutely need a statute of limitations on stupid statements. I have lots of expertise on the subject, so let me explain.
Early last decade, I hosted a talk radio show. Because that job involved speaking off the top of my head for three hours daily, I uttered many, many stupid things. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, I unconditionally supported the “war on terror,” including the invasion of Iraq. I did so based on the information available at the time, which included the Bush Administration’s assurances that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
Seventeen years later, viewed with 20-20 hindsight, my warhawk stance seems like grievously poor judgement. Our nation lost more than 4,400 soldiers across 15 years in Iraq. Another 32,000 soldiers were wounded.
If you replayed the audio of me speaking circa 2001 about why “we need to turn Iraq into a parking lot,” I would be deeply embarrassed by my bloodlust and naivete. I’d have no choice but to admit that I was wrong.
“I was too sure of myself, too swept up in the emotions of 9/11,” I’d tell you today. “Looking back, I feel stupid to have said some of those things.”
That would be the end of it – because I’m not running for office. In that way, all of us get a pass on saying dumb things in public. Except for politicians.
That distinction came home to me while watching the Senate debate between Democrat Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally. With time ticking down, McSally demanded of the moderators, “We have to talk about the military.” She seemed frantic in her insistence, which made sense later: McSally was dying to attack Sinema over a snippet of a talk radio dating back to 2003.
“When we were in harm’s way, she was protesting our troops in a pink tutu,” McSally explained before jumping ahead to the big reveal: “(Now) CNN reported that in 2003, while she was on the radio, you said it was okay for Americans to join the Taliban.”
McSally’s coup de grâce, repeated a couple times: “It’s treason.”
Sinema gave a canned response about her “13 years of fighting for Arizona.” She spoke for 30 seconds – all the time the moderators gave her – saying nothing of substance. I imagine Sinema’s consultants congratulated her afterward for refusing to take the bait. Me, I was disappointed. Just once, it would have been refreshing to see a political candidate turn to the camera and admit wrongdoing.
“Yup, 15 years ago, I said something dumb,” Sinema might have offered. “I made a flippant three-second comment during a radio interview when I was 27 years old, before I won my first election. It was a stupid thing to say and I regret it. A lot.”
Sinema could have asked for forgiveness then, adding, “You know, like everyone else, I made mistakes in my twenties. I said and did dumb things. I’ve come a long way in 15 years. I hope you’ll judge me on who I am now, not by who I was 15 years ago.”
I know. It’s a fantasy. In politics, any utterance made after the womb is scripted in stone. Changing your mind after getting more information, after learning and growth, isn’t a sign of maturity. It’s “a flip flop.” Getting smarter with age, gaining in perspective and maturity?
In real life, it’s a sign of adulthood. In politics, where all that matters is walking the party line? It’s a death sentence.