Word Gambling in a Minnesota Bathroom

The lure of word gambling strikes again. I’ve talked about this topic several times, but I’m still amazed by the stupidity and shortsightedness of most public officials. The recent hoopla over Senator Larry Craig’s (R-Idaho) disorderly conduct arrest again proves my theory. (Smoking Gun has the original police report.) As I wrote back in April:

Consider how many politicians get in trouble, not for the act itself, but instead for the cover-up and the lies used to conceal the act. The guilty would rather get caught in a bold lie that compounds the consequences than simply take responsibility for the original sin. These word gamblers, rather than betting on cards or dice, risk everything on a smooth tongue and take the chance that they will be believed.

In this particular instance, Craig didn’t necessarily lie, except perhaps by omission. Now, he’s playing catch-up. Imagine, if instead of waiting for Roll Call to break the news, Craig announced news of the guilty plea back at the beginning of August. Even better, what if he publicized the original arrest back in June with his version of events?

Unfortunately, he did none of the above and has zero control of the story. This choice has left Craig scrambling, issuing statements that accomplish little:

“At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct.

“I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously.” (link)

Why, why, why didn’t he realize that such statements would have done him more good four weeks ago? His argument, “that they were misconstruing my actions,” is a little difficult to believe given that it comes after the fact. Here’s the thing, I don’t care about politicians’ personal peccadilloes as long as they aren’t breaking the law. And if they’ve been accused of breaking the law, I’m even inclined to give the benefit of the doubt if they’re upfront about the situation instead of hoping and praying a reporter doesn’t stumble across the arrest report. What is there to gain from hoping something goes away? We’re too connected, too observant, and too willing to chase after the story. These are no longer the days of letters and telegrams.

Given these circumstances, the words we chose choose and how we use them is even more important. Our thoughts and words are no longer captured on paper, to disintegrate over time. They’re digital. For all intents as purposes, they’re immortal. And yet more than ever, we are casual with our words. We‘re underestimate the power of words and their effect on others. As long as I write this blog, I suspect my mantra will always be, “The words matter.” One would think Senator Craig had learned this lesson a long time ago. His actions clearly indicate that if he had the lesson, he’s forgotten it.



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August 2007
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