The headlines in Wednesday's Star Tribune were unrelenting. On the front page: "Obama: I screwed up." On page two: "A role model flubs -- big time."
The question is: Screwed and flubbed relative to what?
The screwer, President Obama, has yet to spend the day recreating in absentia during a deadly flood or recreating in the White House with an intern. But he did fail to spot the omission on Line 87, Box M of Tom Daschle's tax form. (And Nancy Killefer's. And Timothy Geithner's. Etc.)
The flubber, Michael Phelps, has yet to cower in the back seat of a Bronco during a low-speed chase on the 405. But he did get caught on camera snogging a marijuana pipe while simultaneously being famous. And a hero to boot.
Neither deserves the public humiliation that comes with, say, failing to bed your primary target at a nightclub ("The Pick-up Artist," MTV) or presuming to serve deviled eggs at an elite fundraiser ("Top Chef," Bravo). Neither has truly failed us. Yet.
They will. I've lived long enough to assume that almost everyone, even those closest to me, will betray my respect at some point, and I theirs. The question, again, is: Relative to what?
The philosophy of which I speak has had a rough go of it during this good-vs.-evil, with-us-or-against-us century. The fact that so many people have held Obama in such high regard after holding George W. Bush in such low regard after once holding Bush in fine regard is a sign that we've yet to move away from our absolutistic fantasies.
This is not a cry against accountability. Nor is it a dismissal of criticism, which, as the quote vendor Winston Churchill said, performs a function similar to pain: It calls attention to trouble.
This is about perspective and realistic expectations. It's about having the dignity to, as Churchill also said, show mercy while not asking for it. And about having the sense not to drop and flutter our jaws when heroes turn out to be human.
By the way, when I mentioned Tom Daschle's tax form earlier, I couldn't readily find the details about which line and box he neglected to populate. So I made it up. Mea culpa. Please be merciful with me.
David Banks is an associate editor for the Star Tribune's opinion pages. He is at email@example.com.