In case your appetite for scandal is still unsatisfied, let me suggest the following:

Grovelling in Print: The Five Most Interesting Confessional Memoirs

The Confessions, by Augustine (398)
Augustine of Hippo writes the first real autobiography because he is the first to turn a series of life invents into a coherent narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. As he does so, Augustine becomes the model for all who follow him: he confesses those sins which fit into the schema he has laid out for his life (an adolescent theft of pears, which stands as a perfect example of how the sin of Adam is operating in his own soul) and ignores sins which don’t fit at all. (What did happen to his common-law wife and her son?) Augustine’s confessions are a fascinating combination of self-examination and self-deception–a mix that characterizes confessional memoirs for the next two thousand years.

Born Again, Charles W. Colson (1976)
Come on, Chuck. We really want to know what happened at the Watergate. But Watergate occurs in an offhand half-sentence: Colson heard about it on the radio. If you want to know what Colson is confessing to, then, the answer is simple. Pride. Pride drove Colson to serve Nixon with a religious fervour; he describes the Nixon presidency as an extended “Holy War against the enemy–those who opposed the noble goals we sought of peace and stability in the world. They who differed with us, whatever their motives, must be vanquished.” Colson, after his conversion, is still pursuing the same goals; he is still fighting a cultural war, this time against the enemy of secular humanism. But he never admits the likeness–even though his memoir makes very clear just how interrelated the strategies of political and evangelical leaders have become.

I Was Wrong, Jim Bakker (1996)
Remember Jim Bakker, and his promises that God wanted his children to be rich? The heyday of the health-and-wealth preachers is gone (it was an easier message to get across in the 1980s), but Bakker remains memorable for the sheer magnitude of his self-delusion. Two scandals still mark Bakker’s name–financial defrauding of PTL partners and sexual shenanigans with Jessica Hahn in that Florida hotel room–but Bakker insists that he was wrong only in trusting others too implicitly, loving his wife too deeply, depending on his friends too much, and working too hard for the kingdom of God. This autobiography, written after he served his prison term for fraud, is worth reading simply because it stands as the most blatant and clear-cut example of how to apologise endlessly without ever taking responsibility for a single evil deed.

My Life, by Bill Clinton (2004)
How many readers of Clinton’s autobiography went straight to the index to find Lewinsky, Monica? Reading Clinton’s account is like sitting through a master class in rhetoric. He is able to give a convincing impression of honesty while throwing an invisibility cloak over the whole perjury problem. He admits to stupidity (hardly an impeachable offense) while dramatically pointing a finger at the opposition: “As a husband, I had done something wrong,” he writes. “As President, I was in a legal and political struggle with forces who…severely damanged innocent people in their attempt to destroy my presidency and cripple my ability to serve.” Nothing succeeds in confession like casting yourself as a holy warrior, striving on the side of good against evil; in comparison with the vast right-wing conspiracy, an “improper encounter” or two appears almost inconsequential. Almost.

The Confession, by James McGreevey (2006)
At the press conference held when he resigned, the former governor of New Jersey struck a single confessional note: “I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony,” he announced. “It was wrong.” The Confession is more complex; McGreevey sees his closeted sexuality as merely one facet of a life which was hopelessly distorted by his time in elected office. He blames the distortion, in large part, on the mess of American politics, which he sees as a game of smear campaigns, baseless allegations, and character assassinations: “I doubt that it’s possible to live as a totally integrated person and succeed in the backrooms of America’s political system,” he concludes. Despite some careful self-justification over McGreevey’s shady political dealings (“For all but the wealthy,” he writes, “ethical compromises…are all but compulsory”), The Confession is surprisingly frank about McGreevey’s own failings. Chalk the honesty up to McGreevey’s decision to leave politics and train for ordination in the Episcopal church, where being a repentant sinner is a positive advantage.

  • GT

    I’ve had my fill of this appalling Weiner story. Yes indeed, a plague on Weiner for his stupid deeds and then lying about it.

    E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post wrote a must read essay about the media’s Weiner fixation as yet another symptom of American political decadence.

    I view the Weiner scandal as of a piece with the most recent politico-celebrity meltdowns (i.e, John Edwards, Charlie Sheen, et. al).

    The late historian Daniel Boorstin referred to such stories as “Pseudo events.”

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