Mistakes were NOT made?

Anna Staver

If I told you the sky was green yesterday, would you believe me? What if I told you Paul Revere rang bells to wake up the British during his midnight ride? Or if I said those revealing photos from my Twitter account didn’t really belong to me?

This past week, two of those three scenarios were run past the American public. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin rewrote American history, and New York Rep. Anthony Weiner denied Tweeting lewd photos to women who weren’t his wife.

In addition to Palin and Weiner, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie denied using a state helicopter for personal travel — even after he was caught on tape — and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards was indicted for allegations that he used campaign funds to buy his mistress’ silence. It’s been a busy week.

Unlike many Americans, my issues with these four are not their initial “bad” acts. I’m a revolutionary history buff, but I accept that most Americans aren’t. Palin made an honest mistake, and it really wasn’t a big deal to me at first. What made her remarks a big deal was her very public refusal to admit her mistake.

Psychologist Elliot Aronson co-authored the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)” in 2007, and in it he says the human brain works hard to convince us that we are doing the right thing, even when there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. It’s called cognitive dissonance, and it’s when your brain tries to hold two conflicting ideas in your head.

For example, you love America, but you misspoke about one of its founders. Or, you’re a good guy, but you cheated on your wife.

We sooth our wounded egos, by saying it really wasn’t so bad or we weren’t really wrong.

The problem with this thinking is that we don’t learn from our mistakes. And, Aronson argues that it makes us more likely to repeat those mistakes again. If we tell ourselves no mistake were made, then there is no room for improvement.

I think politicians feel the urge to lower their cognitive dissonance more intensely because they are in the public eye. Palin’s intelligence has been the subject of a lot of political jokes, so I can understand why she’d be reluctant to admit a factual blunder.

Also, anyone who runs for office has to at the very least imagine they know what is best for their constituents. It takes a fair bit of ego. So, I’d imagine they’d also be more susceptible to trying to justify their own actions in order to continue believing they know what’s best.

I hold politicians to a higher standard than the average Joe, and I think that’s fair.

We trust them to be in charge of deciding many of the aspects of how we live our everyday lives. Most people think this call to being extrordinary means politicians must always make the right decisions and say the right things. We forget that politicians are people who make mistakes and have gaps in their knowledge.

I think they view admitting their mistakes publicly as a sign of weakness because they are afraid if they admit they are wrong on one subject, people will start to question what else they are wrong about.

What they fail to realize is this: If they’re caught lying about one thing, the public is going to wonder what else they’re lying about.

In the end, I don’t care if Weiner sent photos of himself to women online, or if Palin jumbled up her history lessons. I simply want politicians to reduce their use of dissonance more than the average citizen.

What I want more than martial fidelity is for a politician to say, “I made a mistake, I’m correcting it, and tomorrow, not only will I be a better person, but the nation will be stronger for it.”

Anna Staver is a senior news major. Contact her at [email protected].