David Letterman slept with one or more women who worked for him on his show. Threatened with extortion, he went on his show, told the audience what happened with directness, candor, and as much dignity as one can muster when (literally) caught with one's pants down.
David Letterman is an entertainer, a comedian. He's not accountable to the public for anything other than making us laugh. He could have survived this in any number of ways (see Polanski, Roman), he could have let it blow over, he could have blustered and denied, he could have paid the guy off. He didn't do any of these things – he just took responsibility and didn't justify a thing.
John Ensign (R-NV) had an affair with a staffer while employing her husband. He tried to use political influence to find a job for the husband while the affair was going on, he had his parents pay almost $100,000 to his paramour and her husband, and to this day insists on splitting legal hairs ("I did nothing that was legally wrong") in an attempt to evade responsibility for his actions.
John Ensign is a United States Senator. He is supposed to be in Washington to serve his constituents (of which I am one) and to participate in governing the country at the highest level of the Legislative Branch. He is also part of a clique of Senators and Representatives who belong to "The Family," a clandestine group that believes that their take on Christianity puts them above the Constitution and above accountability to anyone but each other, and a leading "family values" Conservative.
When did entertainers become more responsible and accountable than elected representatives?
Apparently some of our elected representatives have decided that their job is to advance their and their friends' views of what should be done rather than to represent their constituents' views. John Boehner (R-OH) says that no one has told him they want a public option in health care reform, and from that he concludes that "[the public option] is about as popular as a garlic milkshake." Even if we accept that that statement is true – no one has said those words to Rep. Boehner – poll after poll has shown that 70 to 80% of Americans support some form of public option, so Mr. Boehner's statement is disingenuous at best.
President Obama travelled to Copenhagen to carry the bid by Chicago and the United States for the 2016 Olympic Games. The IOC voted to send the games to Rio. Within minutes Rush Limbaugh, Michael Steele, and others triumphantly declare this a defeat for the President. Limbaugh makes the egregiously false statement that the President has spent eight months traveling all over the world telling people how terrible America is, so "why would they want to send the games to someplace that sucks so bad?" In point of fact, President Obama has spent eight months trying to restore the reputation of America after it was all but destroyed by eight years of George Bush.
I guess not all entertainers are responsible and accountable.
I could go on with example after example of irresponsibility, lack of accountability, and mendacity on the part of our public officials and others such as Limbaugh, Beck, and Steele who have appointed themselves public voices, but you've heard it all. My question is when did we, as a nation, become numbed to this?
Where is the Joseph Welch who will stand up and say "Have you no shame, sir? Have you no decency?" Surely Tail-gunner Joe McCarthy was scarier than Ensign, Limbaugh, et al., so why has no one stood up to them?
Or let's make it more local – when that person down the street or down the hall gives you the benefit of their sincere view that Obama was born in Kenya or that health care reform will mean killing grandma, why do we not call them out for the idiot that they are?
Have we come to the point where we just accept this, or is it just that we are so committed to not making waves that we won't confront blatant lying and hypocrisy? In either case we are in grave danger. Remember the classic statement by Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran Pastor who who was arrested by the Gestapo in 1938 and interned in Dachau until 1945:
In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.
This is a no-kidding crucial situation. Unless someone will stand up and (metaphorically) shout "you lie!" to those who are lying, we may find one day that there is no one left to speak for us.