Colleen Carroll Campbell Home
The politics of second chances

The New York Times
Room for Debate
May 23, 2013
By Colleen Carroll Campbell

If Anthony Weiner succeeds in resurrecting a political career sunk by a sexting scandal just two years ago, he will do so using a predictable script. It’s one that has been employed with increasing frequency and success in recent years, most recently by former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, who won re-election to his old House seat this month despite a 2009 sex scandal that made him a national punchline.

The comeback talking points go something like this: “Sure, I was caught a) cheating on my wife; b) lying to voters and journalists; c) embarrassing my elected office, supporters, and staff; d) behaving so oddly and recklessly that you’d feel nervous leaving me alone with your spouse or child; or, e) all of the above. But who’s perfect? Don’t you believe in forgiveness? And if you have ever made a mistake and been given a second chance, how can you deny me the same?”

It’s a savvy rhetorical tactic, because it implicitly challenges voters to prove their virtuousness and good character by overlooking the politician’s lapses of same. And it often succeeds in silencing the fallen politician’s critics, by implying that anyone who questions his comeback bid is puritanical and unforgiving.

As handy as this line of argument is for politicians, it’s not healthy for our republic. It purposely blurs the line between narrow-minded judgmentalism and legitimate discernment.

Voters are right to hold their elected officials to higher ethical standards in both personal and professional life. They are wise to think twice before returning disgraced politicians to the very position of political power – with all of its perks and temptations – that those politicians failed to manage responsibly the first time around. And they are understandably suspicious when a politician with a history of prevaricating claims that his comeback bid is motivated solely by a desire for selfless public service – as if the only way to serve one’s community is to be its leading political power broker.

Everyone deserves a second chance. But not every disgraced politician deserves re-election. And sometimes the most charitable thing voters can do for a politician with a history of embarrassing himself and his constituents is to refuse to grant him another chance to fall.

Colleen Carroll Campbell is the author of “My Sisters the Saints: A Spiritual Memoir” and “The New Faithful,” a former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, and anchor of “EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell,” a new international TV newscast that debuts this summer on EWTN.

Colleen Carroll Campbell
  • Colleen Carroll Campbell is an author, print and broadcast journalist and former presidential speechwriter. Her books include her critically acclaimed journalistic study, The New Faithful, and her award-winning spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, which has been published in Spanish, Portuguese, Polish and as an audiobook. Colleen's journalism credits include contributions to the New York Times, Washington Post, Christianity Today, First Things and America, and appearances on CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC News, PBS and NPR. She has served as executive producer and anchor of EWTN News Nightly with Colleen Carroll Campbell, a television newscast airing worldwide on EWTN, the world’s largest religious media network, and as creator and host of EWTN’s Faith & Culture television and radio interview show. In 2013, she anchored EWTN’s live television coverage of the historic election and installation of Pope Francis in Rome. A former speechwriter for President George W. Bush and editorial writer and op-ed columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Colleen is the recipient of two honorary doctorates and numerous other awards for her work. She serves as a religious liberty consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and speaks to audiences across North America and Europe. Colleen lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children, whom she homeschools. Her website is www.colleen-campbell.com.

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