O nce upon a time there lived a man — Simon Pewer was his name — who was the only celebrity in all of America who had never been accused by anyone of misconduct, harassment, or corruption. He had been a talented actor, had served in the US Congress, produced his own TV news program, but despite his power and influence, he had escaped all the charges directed at his famous colleagues.

This was because he had never committed even the whiff of an impropriety. He was happily married, the father of three lovely children, attended religious services faithfully, tithed his earnings to charity, and lived a life of honesty and rectitude.

Simon was by nature very quiet and reserved, but as the only famous man never accused of misbehavior, he became the subject of network interviews and newspaper feature stories, and he soon became a household word. Mothers would scold their children: “Why can’t you be like Simon Pewer?” Bottled water ads boasted that they were “Pure like Pewer.” As the only untainted national figure in America, both Republicans and Democrats began mentioning him as a possible presidential candidate. Yard signs and bumper stickers soon appeared: “Make America Pure Again with Simon Pewer.”

But the greater his popularity, the deeper grew the scorn of the elite establishment. They leaked gossip to the media: He is holier-than-thou; he is a prude; he considers himself better than anyone else. They hinted broadly that there were embarrassing skeletons in his closet. His unusual integrity and unsullied record were reflections on them, and they retaliated by claiming that he was a religious fanatic and was therefore guilty of what they termed “inappropriate behavior” for a national figure.

Hoping to trip him up, unfriendly networks invited him for one-on-one sessions with hostile interviewers, but he was so genuine and disarming that with each caustic question he won the approval of more millions of Americans. And every day, more people testified to his fine character and selfless behavior toward them. Fifty employees came forward and declared that they had worked with him for many years, and that he was honest and had treated them all with the greatest respect and deference.

It became a populist tidal wave. A third party was quickly formed, he was nominated by acclamation on a platform of Make America Pure Again. Wherever he went during the ensuing campaign he was met by adoring crowds chanting “Pure with Pewer.” The polls showed him far ahead of every other candidate.

But the establishment, sensing the loss of their power, fought back to discredit him. They launched a heavily funded Stop Pewer campaign. They hired scoundrels to tarnish his reputation. On cue, print and electronic journalists lost no opportunity to label him as phony, insincere, hypocritical, pretentious. Reports surfaced that no one could work with Pewer because of his near-maniacal devotion to virtue. The New York Times claimed he was unfit for high office because he was too straitlaced and convinced of his rectitude, “which is inappropriate in any leader.” The Washington Post intoned: “Sometimes we have to overlook the weaknesses in human nature. It is inappropriate to insist on perfection. Let’s face it. No one is perfect.” The Senate majority leader said that although he admires integrity in government officials, there is a point where integrity must give way to reality. CNN editorialized: “Let us be honest. Rectitude and incorruptibility are fine traits, but they should not be overdone. Too much of them are inappropriate in a political leader. To insist on perfection is folly. No one is perfect.”

Soon enough the country was inundated with attack ads declaring that Pewer was not pure at all: He was a fraud, his rigid and unbending views on integrity were unsuitable in a president of all the people. It became a mantra that he, and not they, was guilty of Inappropriate Behavior. So relentless was the campaign that even his supporters began to doubt the genuineness of Simon Pewer. His lead dwindled, his campaign floundered under the onslaught, and he lost the election.

And so it came to pass that the anti-Pewers retained their power and resumed their traditional behavior. Graft grew, bribery blossomed, employees were harassed, but by now such behavior was no longer considered inappropriate.

After all, let us not be naive or simplistic or holier-than-thou; no one is perfect.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 702)