If people laughed at Iris Robinson this week she certainly gave them good grounds to. Her adulterous affair with a 19 year old man, an individual 40 years her junior, puts her series of vicious verbal attacks on gays last year in their proper context. Iris has emerged as a gold plated hypocrite who, to quote the bible, can see the speck in another’s person’s eyes whilst ignoring the beam in her own.
It wasn’t just that she was having biblically forbidden sex whilst condemning other people for doing likewise, her sweetheart deals from property developers to brighten her young lovers future display a arrogant refusal to be bound to standards that she insisted others keep. Ethics, morality and even law were for the little people, apparently.
And yet I feel sorry for her. I genuinely do. I take no pleasure in seeing her brought low, even by her own hand. And I will not kick her now that she’s down. Why? Because W.B. Yeat’s was right, there’s a pity beyond all telling hid in the heart of love.
If you’re gay, and even if you’re not, you can’t help noticing that there’s a reassuring ordinariness about this woman, it’s what made her attacks on the gay community so painful, as a matter of fact. Last year as she picked a fight with them you could tell she was out of her depth.
The reason I will not condemn her (even though she wasted no time condemning me and every gay person I know) is that Iris is a reminder to us all that in life a little humility is always preferable to a great deal of righteous scorn.
There’s something else too. There are fearful passions out there lying in wait for all of us. Passions with the power to consume us completely: infatuation, lust, jealousy, anger, spite, choose your poison. The only thing between Iris and us is chance.
On Facebook, where nowadays public approval or revulsion is expressed in a sort of online version of the Roman Coliseum, she’s being savaged. Make Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” Number One on iTunes! is the name of one group. “Send Iris to Dignitas,” crowed another, alluding to the assisted suicide clinic in Switzerland. The responses ranged from humorous to appallingly vindictive.
I don’t think anyone has the room to condemn her completely. As I’ve written elsewhere there’s a kind of Greek tragedy quality to this pathetic tale. Not enough to make Sophocles lose sleep obviously but there’s a sorrow (a broken marriage) and poignancy (many broken hearts) to the whole thing that I haven’t seen or heard expressed yet.
Iris was a woman who wanted to be loved. She was also lonely and very vulnerable. It’s a shame that experience didn’t teach her much empathy for others, it could have done. She judged people with a fundamentalist finality, if we can learn anything from her fall it should be not do the same thing.