The world, through the magic of television, saw the bizarre incident at the memorial service for Nelson Mandela: A supposed interpreter for the deaf stood next to President Obama and other world leaders as each delivered a eulogy. He was close enough to touch each speaker, or worse, as he gestured mightily with his hands, believed by people who don't know sign language to be interpreting the speakers' remarks.
He was doing no such thing, it was soon revealed. Not an authorized interpreter, but a sometime mental patient, he had made his way into the funeral program in a way unknown or at least un-admitted to by South African authorities. The imposter's alleged sign language was, experts said, total gibberish. Government investigators promised to get to the bottom of the matter, but as their credentials and abilities seem hardly superior to those of the impostor, expectations are not great.
It was a sad, strange blot on a tribute to South Africa's greatest son, and some Westerners believed it the sort of thing that would not happen in a more advanced country. Having coffee at the Republican state headquarters in Little Rock a couple of days later, we heard a party leader remark, sorrowfully, "Only in Soweto."
But within the week, a similarly shocking oddity occurred at the Arkansas State Capitol, where a legislative committee met to investigate alleged misdeeds by the little-known lieutenant governor of Arkansas, said now to be one Mark Darr. A man took the assigned witness chair but it soon became evident that he was ignorant of, or pretended to be, long-established state laws governing public officials' use of public and private funds, such as prohibitions against making personal purchases with government credit cards. Speculation that someone other than Darr was testifying spread through the Capitol until Republican state senators claiming to know Darr well vouched for the witness. But they were as indifferent toward retribution as the South African authorities had been. Some even suggested that by being asked to obey the law, Darr was being picked on.
An expert in the field, Dr. Vincent Insalaco, did offer an opinion on the matter:
"Mark Darr's blatant abuse of government resources is deplorable. Today's report confirms that the Lt. Gov. has abused his office and state resources by nearly $10,000, which is nearly half of the average working Arkansan's income every year. The rules about using state funds for personal expenditures are clear and Darr clearly broke many of them. His record of irresponsibility is an embarrassment to our state and he should apologize to Arkansas for his transgression."
More than apologize, he should resign. The real Darr, that is. If there's an imitator, he could be barred from the Capitol, now that people know what Mark Darr is supposed to look like.