01/06/2012 03:58 pm ET Updated Mar 07, 2012

Personal Baggage: The Iowa Caucus UnPacking Checklist

If the Republican primaries are providing us with one useful take-away, it's this. We are a confused country. We are confused politically. But many of us are also confused personally, philosophically and spiritually.

The issue at the epicenter of our confusion centers on what to do about our personal baggage. You don't get to be old enough to run for president without having accumulated some sort of history. And you certainly don't pass the 50+ mark without at least some residue of unfinished business.

Who among us doesn't have some youthful indiscretion, some disgruntled former someone or other in some hidden pocket of our past? Admittedly, those who are attracted to the larger-than-life stage of presidential politics seem often to have oversized luggage to match. The average Joe having stolen a bag of malted milk balls from a pharmacy at age 10 doesn't hold a candle to congressional ethics violations, for instance. And someone's spontaneous extra-marital lip brush beneath the mistletoe is not the same as a parade of paramours claiming to have shared one's bed, either.

But here's where the question of confusion comes in. Whether we're trying to assess the character of the next president of the United States, or forgive ourselves for our own past indiscretions, it's not that simple. Just where do you draw the line in terms of degrees of indiscretion? And, too, when is the past "the past?" Moreover, is the confession of one's sins enough? If God can forgive us, can we also forgive ourselves?

Contemplating these questions in the aftermath of the Iowa caucus, I've decided to take my personal grappling public in the form of a Personal Baggage Unpacking Checklist. This is intended for individual use. However, candidates of all parties are welcome.

1. I am not in denial. An unblemished conscience does not necessarily mean an unblemished track record. Ask yourself the following questions, and if you can't recall a single transgression, chances are that you have an overactive defense mechanism. You can repress, rationalize and/or compartmentalize aspects of your history, but that doesn't mean they went away. So think on this, and think hard. In which of the following areas have you done something you would prefer not to tell your mother about.
  • Extra-marital affairs
  • Breaking the law
  • Monetary problems
  • Indiscretions
  • Ethical violations
  • Other

2. The things I did were a long time ago and have either been remedied to the satisfaction of all concerned or I have done everything within my power to make amends.

3. When remedying the situation directly was not possible, I have compensated for whatever harm I've caused with something equally or of an even higher good.

4. My actual behavior subsequent to my indiscretions up through the present moment and into the foreseeable future demonstrates that the lessons have been learned.

5. I am only taking responsibility for my fair share.
This one is for those of us who have a tendency to not only bear their own baggage, but everybody else's, as well. Grandiosity, you know, is its own special brand of baggage.

6. I do not believe that God's forgiveness somehow means I got away with something.

7. I do not think that it's unfair that I have to bear the consequences for my past acts, and am gracious and humble in accepting the ramifications.

8. I have refrained from offering premature compassion to myself, before amends have been made.
If candidates for president would take the time to complete this simple checklist before deciding whether to run, we'd have a lot fewer public melt-downs. But more to the point, take this for yourself, and you will have peace of mind.