— Gentil Aquitaine (@gaquitaine) July 15, 2013
Not to be confused with lotus eaters, sin eaters are those rare members of society—or U.S. presidential administrations—who, owing to a theoretical perversion of the principle of transubstantiation, are able to eat up the iniquity of others in the form of ritual comestibles. Do note that, as late as the early 20th Century, sin eating was an actual religious rite (on a par, to be sure, with faith-healing, snake-handling and the wearing of magic undergarments—which would lead one to suspect that is still goes on in Appalachia today). One person would ‘consume’ the sins of another, someone close to dying, for instance, by eating a fetishized meal in his or her presence.
Of course, in the context of contemporary American politics, the term has come to take on a more practical meaning… more practical, but with regard to no less weird and ignominious a religious practice. Today, if one is the President of the United States, a person—usually one’s Attorney General—can be deployed to absorb the legal and political sins of one’s administration (one’s own sins) by appearing before Congress and the media and eating crow (if not a more disgraceful substance). In theory, doing so inoculates the President from accountability for his actions—and he is able to win re-election. And, remarkably, as theories go, this one actually seems to work.
According to Jonathan Turley, AG Eric Holder is President Obama’s champion sin eater. Before him, it was AG Alberto Gonzalez, in collaboration with Donald Rumsfeld (note that having had two appallingly bad Presidents at the time, the Bush Administration needed two separate—and equally detestable—sin eaters). And before them it was AG Janet Reno. (The burning up of 76 Branch Davidians was arguably always on her head, but the Elián González debacle and Clinton’s lies about his sexual escapades were not.)
AG John Mitchell was one of a number of Nixonian sin eaters (President Nixon was sufficiently evil that one such eater wouldn’t do), and the Reagan Administration distinguished itself with such a level of criminality in the Third World that it needed to leverage the greedy guts of a hard-boiled clandestine officer, Col. Oliver North, in order to redeem its president. (The administrations of Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and George Bush, the First had no effective sin eaters and—guess what?—each of these leaders was a pitiable one-term wonder.)
It remains to be seen if Hillary Clinton—now being hailed as the first woman POTUS—will abolish this ritual and win re-election by taking accountability for her administration upon herself.
scapegoat, anathema, political masochism
© 2013 Gentil Aquitaine. All rights reserved.