Catching the Valedictorian with Answers on Her Arm

In high school, math was not my friend. Things came to a head in trigonometry. A big test was coming. I knew I couldn't pass. Unless. Maybe. Just this time... I'd write a few answers on my arm. I could be stealth about it. No one would see. But my reputation was at stake. I was in student government. I was on the debate team. I had a high profile in the school. If I got in trouble, I risked my good name. Yet my GPA -- why should I trash all the good work I'd done by failing this one stupid class?

I felt that crossroads like it was hot asphalt under my feet. I knew cheating was wrong (and dangerous). But I remember sitting there at that desk thinking: these are the hard decisions that must get made. I felt so mature facing down the hard math of life, making the pragmatic decision that might be morally wrong but would ultimately save my um, legacy. So I cheated. I passed the test. I experienced short-term gain. But I still didn't understand the material. I failed the final -- and the class. And while I thought no one saw me cheat, now that I've been a teacher myself I know that when I'm standing in front of a class, or even off to the side, I see *everything* in the room. Even if my teacher didn't say anything, he probably saw me. I wouldn't be surprised if that's a reason I didn't get into National Honor Society (NHS). I'd heard that a few teachers had "character" reservations with me -- charges that will do more to undermine one's "legacy" than any failed test.

I think of innocence lost as the first time you truly know something is morally wrong, but you do it anyway. I think of wisdom won as the understanding that every action has an equal and opposite reaction, sometimes unintended.

No one would accuse Sen. Clinton or her staff of being innocents. No one would accuse them of not knowing the material. On the contrary, they've been hailed as a mighty machine, and she, as the knower of all political things worth knowing. Always prepared, they say. Always getting that A+++. However, the Clinton team has also been accused of being over-controlling -- of stage-managing situations to an extent that you wonder if they're referencing the George Bush playbook as often as they do the Bill Clinton one. Staffers seem driven to make risky choices that may be expedient at the time, but carry the risk of biting them in the ass if anyone finds out. No one wants to be the one who loses it for her.

Case-in-point, the question-plant story. In the history of campaign dirty tricks, this doesn't even warrant a mere mention. But, now that they're caught, does this not further the widespread belief that Sen. Clinton will do anything to win? That once again, tactics trump principle?

Fear of failure, or, fear of the consequences of failure, can lead otherwise smart, good-hearted people to "ensure" that their results are perfect. Always perfect. When you have a candidate perceived to be a "perfect little girl" (a characterization Arianna Huffington nailed so brilliantly back in December), the slur of "cheater" can stick -- for it's delicious to see the perfect girl get caught faking it, no? -- and undermine all the hard work done everywhere else.

Compared to the leaders of our current kleptocracy, the notion that Sen. Clinton could be called a cheater, and the charge stick, seems ridiculous. But the story is out there. I'm sure lots of folks are getting a snicker out of the image of the Valedictorian caught with the answers on her arm. The problem is, no matter how hard you work, if your opponents catch you fudging, cheating, or full-on fabricating in any way, they can use that to smear all of your otherwise good works.