My initial purpose in writing this is to second what Joan Walsh says on Slate — that despite very bad things in Charles Ramsey’s past, including domestic violence, what he did the other day still makes him a hero:
In hindsight, maybe Charles Ramsey was trying to tell us something when he insisted to Anderson Cooper Tuesday night that he’s not a hero. “No, no, no. Bro, I’m a Christian, an American. I’m just like you,” he told the news anchor.
Maybe he knew the whole hero story line would come with an unhappy ending: Now we’ve learned, via the Smoking Gun, that Ramsey was charged with and served time for multiple domestic violence counts. He was also convicted and imprisoned on drug charges and receiving stolen property.
All of that is awful, particularly for his ex-wife and daughter. But it doesn’t change the fact that Ramsey was a hero when he helped Amanda Berry escape Monday night. It may make him even more admirable, if he had an inkling that his sudden fame might expose his troubled past…
Of course he’s a hero — one with deep flaws. But all heroes are flawed. That Mr. Ramsey’s are what they are makes what he did this week, if anything, more laudatory.
I’m not dismissing his past offenses as some sort of colorful details. To me, there is no crime more contemptible than domestic violence, except the abuse of children — which is its close relative. Wife-beaters are right down there among the lowest of the low.
But what he did Monday was a redemptive act. One more excerpt from the piece:
To dismiss the character Ramsey showed in rescuing Berry is to suggest that nobody who’s ever done something bad should try to do something good, because the bad will always matter more. It would be a shame if Ramsey’s exposure, and the cackling about his past from some quarters, served to discourage other ex-convicts from helping others for fear that their pasts will come back to haunt them.
What Mr. Ramsey did on Monday didn’t erase his past offenses. Those are still on his ledger. But it was still heroic, and it has redemptive value.
This brings us to Mark Sanford.
I was pretty upset with the news headlines I saw in a couple of SC newspapers saying that Sanford had achieved “redemption” through his victory. Note again, these were news stories about the election, not opinion pieces, expressing a highly debatable opinion about the meaning of his win. More offensively, they were using the language of faith, of theology, making an assertion about the salvation of a man’s soul. Unless they were talking about trading in pop bottles for the deposit — the only other common use of the word “redeem” I can think of — and we don’t do that in South Carolina.
They had no business doing that. Especially since Mr. Sanford presumes to speak for the Almighty a lot, with his line about the God of… what’s he up to now, by his own count… eighth chances? (As I said in a comment yesterday, I think God should get a good lawyer and seek an injunction to stop Sanford from going around blaming the election result on Him.)
Managing to con a Republican district into voting for you with a campaign that consists of frightening them with a big picture of Nancy Pelosi — a cheap, generic, off-the-shelf, appeal to visceral partisanship — does not constitute “redemption.” Showing Nancy Pelosi and saying “Boo!” is like striking Republicans on the patellar ligament with a rubber hammer — you get a reflexive response. Earlier, when he was talking about himself, he was losing.
So don’t talk to me about redemption.
“Oh, but that’s just your opinion, Brad,” you say. Absolutely. It’s a carefully considered, supportable opinion that I think a lot of people would share. Which is why that word shouldn’t have appeared in those headlines.
I’m about to get back to Charles Ramsey, in just a moment…
For close to four years now, Mark Sanford has been going around asking us to forgive him, being careful to mention that God has forgiven him — the heavy implication being, so what are you people, better than God? He does this in that casual, unconcerned way that he has of expressing himself. Within the context of his other actions — such as his repeated violations of the terms of his divorce decree — it all comes across as just another element in his powerful sense of self-entitlement. Mark Sanford does whatever he wants — ditch the job to run off to Argentina, abandon his boys on Father’s Day weekend, lie to his staff about where he’s going, veto the entire state budget, block stimulus money that his state needs so he can posture on FoxNews about it 46 times, carry defecating piglets into the State House to make a cheap political point and leave others to clean up the mess, use state funds to visit his mistress in the Southern Hemisphere when he’s making state employees on state business double up in hotel rooms (because he’s such a fiscal conservative), enter his ex-wife’s house without permission repeatedly, because he feels like it. Because he’s Mark Sanford, and he’s entitled. And if any of it gets him into trouble, then we’re supposed to forgive him.
Meanwhile, Charles Ramsey is a sinner who’s done jail time for his crimes. He doesn’t ask us to forgive him, much less expect us to forgive him. He doesn’t ask anything of us. He exhibits no sense of entitlement. He’s just this dude who, when a woman cried for help while he was eating his McDonald’s, went out of his way to help her. A guy with a low-enough opinion of himself that when a pretty young white girl comes and hugs him, he knows something is wrong.
What he did doesn’t erase what he’s done in the past, and he doesn’t go around telling us that it should. But it was a redemptive act, and it was heroic.