Good kairos in Washington…

Howard Kurtz considers the favorable press given to politicians who have recently bowed out of campaigns or government posts. Americans seem to favor those who bow out, or apologize, when the time is right. A little grace in the gesture goes a long way, too.

While writing an essay on Clinton’s Prayer Breakfast apology, I discovered a strong tendency in the American character to favor those who apologize in a timely and graceful manner (good kairos). This tendency springs directly from our Puritan roots. I think the “art of withdrawal” may be related to this.

Kurtz has this to say about the rising popularity of the art:

On one level, it removes you from the arena so you can avoid the slings and arrows of political and media opponents. It lets you write your own story line, how you wanted to a) fight other battles, b) help your party and country, or c) spend more time with your family.

Apology and extrication are rhetorical maneuvers in response to rhetorical situations. Let’s use Sen. Tom Daschle as an example. We won’t know for sure if Daschle bowed out of the 2004 campaign because he thinks he’d get creamed, or his wife, the lobbyist, is a political liability, unless someone does a remarkable job of inside reporting. We are left with Daschle’s word. The politically smart thing for him to do, obviously, is make sure he spins the situation to his best, future advantage.

Also note that the three story lines Kurtz cites above are, well, story lines: drama. And TV loves drama. TV also tends to equalize the importance of events or, rather, elevate the importance of mundane events. Depending upon the person and the position, bowing out can be anything from a national crisis to a total yawner. TV doesn’t care. It all looks and sounds like courage and drama.