Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Public Dramaturgy.

Public life has its own dramaturgy: its actions call for sentiments, investments, moral responses.

Roland Burris took his Illinois Senate Seat as a wronged man.

A governor no one trusted appointed Burris. Burris seemed hopelessly tainted. A wiser man would have refused the job. (One already had.) But Burris, perhaps partly driven by vanity, took the job.

Then he would not be turned away. Senators wanted nothing to do with him: that was their mistake.

The spectacle of a black man turned away from a job to which he was legally appointed: that was too much.

The mighty, oh-so-moral Senate of the United States--the Democrats therein, really--yielded. Roland Burris became the 'junior' U. S. Senator from Illinois.

Now it appears Burris was not entirely forthcoming in some statements he made. He has recently recalled some more conversations he had about fundraising for the disgraced governor--conversations which, by an interesting coincidence, happen to have been recorded. Wonderful how recording refreshes the memory--even when not replayed.

Now Roland Burris is not a wronged man: he is a forgetful man, and our feelings towards him shift based on the actions he performed.

This is the dramaturgy of public life--or a tiny instance of it.

Roland Burris may have acted lawfully. He may be a completely innocent man.

But actions have appearances, and people respond to them--rightly or wrongly--based on moral notions.

Being turned away from your rightful place makes you an object of sympathy.

Withholding information which might discredit you makes you an object of suspicion.

And so it goes--and not just in Illinois.

--E. R. O'Neill

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