- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

Isn’t America really about second chances? Or maybe even more chances than that? Critics of Martha Stewart’s possible comeback don’t seem to see things that way, but I think they should.

Mrs. Stewart made a mistake. She obstructed justice in a meeting with federal law enforcement officers that she never should have attended in the first place. Any good lawyer would have barred the door or thrown themselves in front of Mrs. Stewart’s entryway. But the domestic diva went in, and it cost her dearly. She is now paying the price by serving five months in a federal prison in West Virginia.

It is noteworthy that Mrs. Stewart was not put away for insider trading. That was the original charge, but the judge — who some believe was as overzealous as the prosecution at the outset of the trial — dismissed it for lack of evidence. Still, the fact remains Mrs. Stewart is paying her dues. As she prepares her comeback, there is simply no reason for anyone to try to deny the right to leave her troubles in the past and start anew.

Some very powerful people are putting their trust in Mrs. Stewart’s comeback. Susan Lyne, a former ABC entertainment executive (responsible for that network’s recent comeback despite being pushed out by Michael Eisner), has taken over as president of Martha Stewart Omnimedia (MSO). Ms. Lyne is a heavyweight. So is red-hot TV producer Mark Burnett, famous for putting together successful so-called reality shows.

So is NBC President Jeff Zucker, who announced the production of a new Stewart show to be aired on the Peacock Network next September.

No one can predict whether Mrs. Stewart’s return to television will succeed. That will be up to the viewers, just as future sales of her many home products will be determined by shoppers at Kmart and elsewhere. But the point is not to predict Mrs. Stewart’s future success or failure. The real issue is the unfolding American story: A highly successful person fell off her horse and will soon begin climbing back into her saddle.

How many of us have gone through something very similar? Whether in business or in our personal lives, we have all suffered setbacks. But we then picked ourselves up in an attempt to move ahead, one day at a time. We substituted successes for failures. I know this story very well. I’ve lived it. I believe the process made me a better human being. I know many others who would make the same claim.

In the just-completed presidential election, there was much talk about faith and God and religion in American life. Martha Stewart and her supporters now illustrate the importance of faith, as well as that old faith-based virtue called redemption.

Of course, there is no political context to the current chapter of the Stewart story, and I’m not trying to create one. Much more important than politics is the American idea that people deserve another chance, and that redemption — or even salvation — awaits us after every mistake.

Mrs. Stewart didn’t kill anybody. She didn’t take drugs. She didn’t even rob shareholders of hundreds of millions of dollars. The Martha Stewart affair is no Enron or WorldCom. Instead, this is a successful woman who made a mistake, is paying the price for it, and will embark on a new chapter in life when released in March. Mrs. Stewart’s story is as American as pumpkin pie. I bet the vast majority of people in this country wish her well on her new journey.

Lawrence Kudlow is a nationally syndicated columnist and is chief executive officer of Kudlow & Co., LLC, and CNBC’s economics commentator.

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