The last refuge for some people who suddenly discover themselves in deep, deep trouble in this country is to do what Patrick Kennedy did, then Mel Gibson did and now Mark Foley is doing — check yourself into a rehab program, in effect announcing to the world that alcohol or drugs made you commit your foul deed, despite your protests.
Perhaps, in fact, the booze or painkillers did play a role, maybe a major role, and getting help in breaking loose from an addiction is scarcely inadvisable. To refuse to face the truth and instead tough it out could be stupid and self-defeating. But if there truly were addictions, it is not as if they existed wholly apart from self-accountable consciousness, from some ability to act contrary to their influence or to begin the steps that could set the addicted free. If addictions so stultified self-direction, there would never be recovery except through coercion.
One thing that hits you in the Foley case is that he didn’t seek help after reflecting on how his sexually explicit e-mails to congressional pages were a gargantuan betrayal of trust on his part and quite possibly a psychic blow to the high school students who received them. The Republican representative from Florida got religion, so to speak, after his career was clearly done for good, his name was on front pages everywhere and criminal investigations had been called for.
To his credit, Foley did “accept full responsibility” for his actions, but a confession prior to exposure by others would have made him more credible, just as Mel Gibson’s excuse of drunkenness for an anti-Semitic outburst would have been more credible if the actor had never wondered aloud about the true extent of the Holocaust while perfectly sober.
Kennedy, serving as a Democratic representative from Rhode Island, was involved in a Washington auto accident after which top police officials enabled him to avoid a sobriety test. His excuse for what happened was an addiction to prescription painkillers, although his youthful adventures with alcohol and non-prescription drugs have been widely reported and he is now also going to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous. Both he and Gibson volunteered for rehabilitation before being ordered by the courts to participate.
In all three of these cases, there is a moral component that should not be forgotten in a rush to be modern and understanding. In some cases of mental illness or brain damage, we obviously lose the capacity to determine our behavior and cope with difficulties in our lives, but most of us most of the time are responsible for what we do. We need to guard against the threats outlined in “One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance,” a book in which Sally Satel and Christina Hoff Sommers worry about the increasingly pervasive idea that we humans are all weaklings in the face of even slight or suspect adversity, incapable of solving the issues that come our way without expert assistance.
Even when therapy is surely needed, as may be the case with Gibson, Kennedy and Foley, their decision to secure it at a moment of crisis does not absolve them of a guilt that derives from a host of earlier decisions made at times of seeming safety. There’s the chance that a prime motive in making the decision was the manipulation of public opinion. Here is hoping their rehabilitation programs make their lives better without winning them sympathy they do not deserve. Their actions invited a storm they should now have to endure.