This is about going "gentle into that good night." Certain people around town don't know how to do it.
Take the D.C. Council, a group of people that seems to have been organized for the sole purpose of making every other governmental entity look sensible, not to say statesmanlike, by comparison.
The latest caper is pretty breathtaking, even by its standards.
The council is considering giving a cash sendoff to the losers in the recent election, which blessedly brought Sharon Pratt Dixon, a recognizable resident of this planet, to the fore as mayor. Marion Barry, the discredited outgoing mayor who is more adhesive than an octopus, lost a try to become a member of the City Council -- although for sheer tastelessness he would have fit right in -- and the council thinks that he, as well as David Clarke, who wanted to be mayor, should get $50,000 each for "transition" costs.
Most people when they lose their jobs simply get a bunch of cardboard cartons, fill them up with personal effects -- photographs, letters, old banquet programs -- say goodbye to those who are staying on and head for the door. It doesn't cost a dime, much less $50,000.
Is it a matter of getting home? Do cabdrivers double their fees to politicians who have lost election fights? Must they go to expensive spas to recover their muscle tone? Do they need expensive psychiatric help to reconcile them to rejection? There is some talk of "drivers." They need drivers to whisk them past the homeless shelters whose funds they are cutting? Or possibly the District's creditors, who have been told there hasn't been enough money to pay the bills? Or possibly to speed them away from furious District taxpayers who will chase them down the street, yelling, "Stop, thief!"
The council also is considering a $150,000 transition fund for the new mayor so it wouldn't look quite so egregious. If Dixon is smart -- and there is every reason to think she is -- she will turn down the money and raise it herself. She should distance herself from the council in any way she can.
If we are going to pay beaten candidates for their suffering, what about national losers? Should we be taking money from the homeless and the poor to give Michael S. Dukakis some cash-balm? And some compensation for this year's rejects, based on a sliding scale of their closeness to victory -- the worse the loss, the higher the pay? Hey, who's counting when it comes to compassion?
Barry needs police protection for six months, he says. Too bad he didn't have more of it to protect him from himself during his drugging days. The City Council members ought to be super-sensitive on the subject of money these days: If they had thought as much about other people's money as about their own, they might have moved against an unchartered local Hispanic bank, which appears to have lost millions of its depositors' dollars. The council could probably have shut it down and averted calamity, but who's perfect?
But the council is no worse probably than the board of American University, which is prolonging in the most painful manner imaginable the departure of former university president Richard E. Berendzen. Like the defeated candidates, Berendzen could go quietly, but with the board aiding and abetting, he is running through options as if nothing had happened. Specifically, as if he had not been found making obscene telephone calls.
Like Barry, Berendzen, who is a brilliant scientist and was a dynamic university president, regards himself as a total victim, who is entitled to the sympathy of the community and anything he wants from the university. First, the Board of Trustees proposed to pay him $1 million to leave. The flaming outrage on and off campus incinerated that notion. Then the board decided to let him come back as a professor of physics in 1992.
Surely Berendzen is to be pitied for the severe sexual abuse he suffered as a child. But he grew up to head a large university, to which he brought pain and disgrace. And the clean break was something he once advocated. An AU law professor, James Boyle, wrote a letter to the editor of the New York Times recalling that Berendzen had in 1982 given the AU janitors two weeks' notice of dismissal on Christmas Eve. He argued that the "hard decisions" had to be made to safeguard the university's meager resources.
Just what kind of a message the board is trying to send by acting as if Berendzen were still an abused child is not clear. It's behaving like the D.C. Council, which is a terrible thing to say, but under the circumstances, almost inescapable.