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Wright, Hewett true examples of tragedy
Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Tue, 04/01/2008 - 8:23am.
Cal Maddux was one of the best teachers. Ever. And I was proud to be the final student he ever taught when I handed in my 10th grade English exam in June 1994. Dr. Maddux preached good grammar like the gospel. And he had other bits of pedagogy that I continue to follow chapter and verse.
One lesson I've always remembered was Dr. Maddux's sermon on the meaning of the word tragedy. In the last couple of millennia, the word has become bastardized to mean anything sad or terrible. But Dr. Maddux hammered home its origins as a form of Greek drama. Tragedy, as Aristotle defined it, was the story of someone of high public stature who made a mistake (also known as his tragic flaw somewhat contrary to Aristotle) that led to his eventual reversal of fortune or downfall. Perhaps the best known tragedy in Greek drama, and typically the classic example, is Sophocles' Oedipus Rex. The story of a king who falls in love with a woman who he does not realize is him own mother, eventually fulfilling a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The realization of the ruin he has caused his family leads Oedipus to blind himself.
Dr. Maddux always said this definition was the one and true meaning of tragedy. Nothing more. "If a truck runs over a baby in an alley," Dr. Maddux would grumble, "it's a terrible thing. But it's not a tragedy. If a truck runs over ten babies in an alley, it's a really terrible thing. But it's still not a tragedy."
In modern times there have been other examples of true tragedy. I've found many in the sports world. Baseball legend Pete Rose may be one of the best examples. The all-time hit king certainly had a high position in society. But his weakness for gambling and his commission of the ultimate sin in baseball of betting on the game itself caused a dramatic fall from grace. Barry Bonds also fits the mold. And Roger Clemens is taking the steps to be next.
Politics, though, may be the richest field from which to harvest tragic stories. Perhaps, like with Oedipus, it is because politicians are often fueled by a need for power and authority. We're seeing the latest tragic stories unfolding right here in our own backyard with disgraced former State Representative Thomas Wright, who now sits in Raleigh not in the legislature but as the defendant in a criminal trial, and suspended Brunswick County Sheriff Ron Hewett, who found himself on the wrong side of a courtroom yesterday after a grand jury indicted him on embezzlement charges.
By definition, a state lawmaker and a county's top law enforcer are men of high stature in society. And evidence and rulings appear to show mistakes both Wright and Hewett have made, or at least are accused of making. If nothing else, Wright made a mistake by not reporting required information to the state Board of Elections when he was supposed to. And Hewett clearly made a mistake trusting some of the people he thought were closest to him, as they were the ones who went to the district attorney to rat him out. Et tu Brute.
And now comes the fall from grace. Wright has been booted from the House. Hewett can't go to work or even keep a gun in his home. And the worse may still be ahead for both if juries convict them of the criminal charges they face.
Regardless of what the future holds, what both Wright and Hewett have gone through is, indeed tragic. And it's sad. I think most people who run for public office, especially at the local and state level, initially do so for good reasons. But there's something about the taste of power, the lure of the spotlight that changes people.
This sort of tragedy is not unique to them. Indeed the annals of history are filled with the Mark Foleys and Eliot Spitzers of the world. Lord Acton may have best described it more than a 120 years ago: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men."
By: Kevin Wuzzardo