LOS ANGELES –
Lindsay Lohan is proclaiming her innocence. It wasn’t her cocaine in her pocket. Blame her former assistant, who had quit that afternoon, or her assistant’s mother, for the fact that she was driving around Santa Monica drunk at 1:30 in the morning on a suspended license.
Like Paris Hilton, she too apparently doesn’t understand that “suspended” means not valid, and that if you’re lucky enough to still be on the streets after your first DUI charge, you should be walking, not driving.
Her defenders say the poor girl is the victim of the celebrity culture, of the highs and lows of early fame, that her addictions are a sickness and her “relapse” an occasion for sympathy. The producers of her next movie, who luckily for them already have insurance, are said to be chock full of “compassion” for the troubled star— and point out that she has yet to be convicted of any crime. Only half in jest, any number of people have commented on how good she looks in her mug shot.
It’s hopeless to argue that we shouldn’t pay attention to this silly, spoiled girl when there are real issues to address, because the reality is that we will. So let’s pay the right kind of attention. Let’s make her an icon of our disgust, an example of when enough is enough, a symbol of what we as a society will neither accept nor tolerate. Let’s use her to demonstrate how tough the criminal law and the criminal justice system can be, not how easily it can be manipulated by those with money and connections.
The prosecutor should throw the book at her. She had every advantage, and she blew it. Her life was most girls’ dream come true, and she took it for granted, abused her status, turned her fame into a license to ignore the rules and live above the law. She is entitled to the presumption of innocence, but she also deserves to be charged with every possible crime, and given the maximum penalty when she is found guilty.
The only reason she hasn’t been convicted yet for the last DUI crash is because the system is slow, not because there’s any doubt as to her actual guilt. If the cocaine wasn’t hers, then she should be charged with illegally transporting it. Either way, it’s a felony, punishable by prison time, not a few Paris Hilton-like days in jail.
I have “compassion” for poor kids raised by crack mothers who can’t afford fancy rehab centers on the beach and don’t have publicists to explain away their bad behavior and rich friends to bail them out and fancy lawyers and doctors to create excuses for their actions or invent trumped-up disabilities to get them special treatment in jail.
I have no compassion for Lindsay Lohan or Paris Hilton or Britney Spears or Kate Moss. I don’t care how many other people get away with driving under the influence or possessing cocaine or falling off the wagon. We may not be able to afford to imprison everyone who “just” drives drunk a few times and carries cocaine in her pocket, but we can afford to lock up Lindsay. Live by the sword and die by the sword.
With fame comes certain responsibilities. One of them is to obey the law, not to endanger the lives of others, and blame everybody else when you do. Kids look up to these girls, whether they should or not. They set standards, including the wrong ones.
The other half of it is the responsibility of the rest of us, and of good kids, not to reward bad behavior with undeserved compassion or blind loyalty. If producers understood that we wouldn’t go see movies featuring druggies, that we wouldn’t watch shows starring criminals, that we wouldn’t follow their taste in clothes or cologne or anything else, they wouldn’t get the parts and the jobs.
Compassion in this town is a business decision, not a personal one. Forgiveness is a calculation of future profits, not real remorse. If the powers that are, the agents, executives, producers and advertisers, were to decide that casting Lohan would spell doom for their projects, that putting Kate Moss on your cover means people won’t buy it, that Paris Hilton can no longer carry a show, then guess what would happen?
Now that would be a message worth sending. It might even save some lives.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.