Day of Judgment

Today’s news revealed what we are willing to accept, and not, from those in the public eye.

I call it a day of judgment, because it is really the judgment of the general public along with how that reflects our values and priorities, that precipitated events. Today, that judgment toppled the attorney general and felled a popular football star.

In timing that seems to have caught many in Washington, D.C. off-guard, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation (watch the video), followed by a brief statement from President Bush, in which he said Gonzales’ name was “dragged through the mud for political reasons.”

Others in Washington disagree, of course, most notably Democrats, who said Gonzales, himself, was too political in carrying out the duties of Attorney General.

Democratic Senator Charles Schumer is among Gonzales’ critics. He is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, in front of which Gonzales testified. Senator Schumer held a press conference in which he made a distinction between all the things Gonzales has been accused of doing – and why Schumer thought the attorney general’s resignation was inevitable.

Had Gonzales “early on owned up to it [alleged mistakes in firing U.S. Attorneys] and said a mistake was made and here’s what I’m going to do to correct it, he could have saved his job. But he never did,” Schumer said.

Wherever one stands on the ideological spectrum, this distinction in the Gonzales story seems key: that he trapped himself into a corner not by what he did or didn’t do, but by – in his various statements – creating an appearance that he was lying to Congress and to the American people. Notwithstanding whether he was actually lying or not, he couldn’t survive that perception.

We are willing to forgive, but not if you lie. That’s a theme we’ve seen time and time again.

SIDENOTE: See a timeline of Gonzales’ association with President Bush

The story of NFL star Michael Vick, and what it says about us, may be more complicated. He pleaded guilty today in connection with allegations of arranging dog-fighting (as well as dog torturing and killing) and publicly apologized (watch the video).

In his apology, Vick appeared to do everything Attorney General Gonzales was criticized for not doing: he appeared contrite, admitted making mistakes, and asked for forgiveness.

“We all make mistakes. I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. . . I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out there in the world. . . I will redeem myself. I have to,” Vick said.

Will Vick now get the forgiveness he seeks? Can he save his career?

Atlanta Falcon’s owner Arthur Blank said he will not immediately fire Vick from the team (watch video), although Vick has been suspended by the NFL.

The real test is with the general public. That narrative is yet to be written, but we may have a glimpse.

Many people reacted with complete horror and disgust at the charges against Vick. Opinion writer Susan Estrich went so far as to make comparisons with aspects of the criminal case in connection with her own rape. Only “an evil sub-human would treat helpless dogs the way he did,” Estrich wrote. That’s a view that was shared by many, even people gathered at the courthouse where Vick entered his plea today.

The scene of his courthouse arrival was accompanied by a soundtrack of both cheers and boos. And that points to a division in public perception. Dog fighting, while taboo across the country, is practiced in some neighborhoods – predominantly poor neighborhoods in cities such as Chicago. Recently, police stopped another dog fighting ring in the Mount Vernon neighborhood in New York (watch the story).

Perhaps part of Vick’s narrative will be one highlighting a socio-economic and racial divide, in terms of who is willing to forgive him and who is not. Time will tell.

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