Joe Paterno died this past weekend. It was a sad ending to a sad weekend when Newt won the S. Carolina primary. I think that Newt and JoePa share something in common and a lesson to all of us.
Many people conflate Paterno’s record as a football coach with who he was as a person. To be sure, coaching football was his life’s work, and I am sure he would have liked to be remembered for his accomplishments on the field. However, his character off the field will be just as much an enduring part of his legacy. And it should be. We can distinguish what he accomplished as a coach from what he was as a human being. Sure, JoePa contributed to the University and had a positive impact on many lives. He obviously cared about his players and coaches. He also enabled children to be raped.
In every life there are moments that define who we are, that define our character and legacy. It is not the mistakes we make, that define us, but how we respond to the mistakes. JoePa chose to protect his legacy and power as a football coach, and by doing so, destroy the lives of children he was obligated to protect and his reputation as well. If he had reported the abuse he knew had happened, then no other children would have been harmed, and it would have reflected honor on him and his program. Instead, to the very end he claimed that he did nothing wrong and, while giving mouth-service to the victims, he continued to hold on to his power as head coach. Whatever character flaw had clouded his judgment with Sandusky, there is no excuse for what he did afterwards. He chose to protect his program and his reputation. He lacked the character to do the right thing. As a football coach he was great, as a human being, I wouldn’t trust him as my baby-sitter.
The amazing thing about Paterno is that people refuse to see him as he revealed himself, and they want to continue to hold onto their fantasies of what he represents, rather than the reality of a flawed human being – which brings us to Newt. Religious, family-values conservatives just helped a man who is a serial adulterer, and convicted ethics violator win the primary in S. Carolina. The way I understand Newt based on history and the reports of his own Party members, is that when not in power, he is a political revolutionary who is charismatic and accomplished. Once in power, Newt is power-hungry, abusive, unorganized, ineffective and unethical . We could speculate that the religious right has always preached one gospel and practiced another, or that they hate Mormons and African-American Presidents more than they love Jesus. But one thing is certain: they are willing to overlook their gospel and character for a fantasy.
Unlike Paterno whose character flaws caused him to consciously enable evil, Newt has repeatedly demonstrated flaws that directly have harmed many people. This is a man who we want to have his finger on the nuclear triggers?