WASHINGTON — It wasn't Time magazine's week, appearing on Monday with a story on Sen. Robert Torricelli headlined, "Does Scandal Really Matter?" This, just at the time the senator was pulling out of his reelection race because plunging poll numbers indicated that, yes, scandal did matter.
In his misty-eyed statement, the senator said, "Don't feel badly for me," in effect, "Don't cry for me, Jersey City." But then he went on to ask, in a tone of bewilderment, "When did we become such an unforgiving people?"
Most public officials in the past, caught in ethical or sexual scandals, could blame political enemies for the punishment they received. House Speakers Jim Wright, ousted, and Newt Gingrich, fined, for financial irregularities; Sen. Bob Packwood forced to resign and President Bill Clinton impeached for scandals involving sex.
But the case of Mr. Torricelli is different, punished not by peers or opponents, but by a public increasingly incensed at the sheer presumption of powerful people.
Bob Torricelli, receiving not only money, but jewelry, Italian suits, and a grandfather clock from his criminal friend, was a public-sector version of Tyco International's Dennis Kozlowski with his $6,000 shower curtain and $15,000 umbrella stand. This was not only conspicuous consumption, but outrageous consumption, its very outrageousness validating the sense of entitlement and immunity that these big shots seem to feel.
A better psychologist than I will have to figure out why a talented politician like Torricelli, who could raise $100 million for Democratic Senate candidates, would risk a career for some truly ill-gotten symbols of power.
If Americans are no longer a forgiving people, it is because the greed of corporate executives and public officials has given them a lot not to forgive.
Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public radio.