This editorial by Prof. Bowen was published in the News Leader (Staunton VA: March 12, 2009): A9.
by Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
(Professor, Depts. of Political Science and of International Relations, Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
Since it sometimes is difficult to read every word of a scanned article (as above), here is a clear copy of the original version of this editorial for readers' reference:
Appropriate respect for the dignity of the democratic process requires that a decent opportunity to succeed be given every new U.S. administration. Call it a honeymoon, call it recognition of the mandate given by the electorate, call it common courtesy, or whatever else you want to name it. But before pundits resume launching those salvos they have held over from campaign season, opportunity to orient new foreign and domestic policies should be given to President Barack Obama. This tradition is all the more necessary when a transition takes place amid war and an economic crisis.
Like most needed traditions, this one seems in short supply lately. We Americans are just too busy being difficult with each other, I guess. The Conservative Political Action Committee, an embittered group of last year’s losers, waited barely a month to host its bash-the-Democrats festival this year. Prior to mounting their podium as the keynote speaker, radio commentator Rush Limbaugh already had urged his listeners to root for Obama’s policies to fail.
Reaction to poisonous barbs from the right came equally quickly from the political left, taking form in Sen. Patrick Leahy’s rush to investigate “abuses” by the Bush Administration by demanding a “Truth Commission” be convened. While Bush loyalists Karl Rove and Harriet Miers may yet be held in contempt by other Congressional investigators, this charmless direction for the country fortunately has gathered little momentum among Democratic Party leaders. It’s not that historians aren’t likely to eventually find some embarrassing skeletons hidden in Bush’s closets. But couldn’t the search for those bones wait a bit? A couple years should be required before any court is asked to gnaw on the 2001 Yoo Memo. That once-secret, now-declassified, Bush-era memorandum guided the Department of Justice in the darkest days of the Global War on Terrorism. It almost cheered the invention of a most bizarre legal theory to the effect that a president may authorize virtually limitless surveillance on U.S. citizens in wartime. Obama’s choice to declassify this document goes far enough to sharpen any historian’s pencil, but will simply releasing it be enough to satisfy the angry legions at moveon.org?
In our litigious age, everything has become actionable; and when a whiff of criminality wafts by, anything less than an indictment seems too mild a reprimand. Yet, it is wise to consider that, when policy priorities and judgments differ, the differences among loyal Americans may stem from legitimate disagreements, not criminal intentions. Much gray area exists, unseen by those who prefer their wartime problems in black and white.
But if the visceral mood created by eight years of George Bush’s duels with his war critics wasn’t able to end on January 21st, and cannot be overcome, its focus at least now needs some re-direction. Outright thievery ran rampant on the Wall St. where Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford strutted. Across America, mortgage brokers winked away the bankers’ skepticism long associated with keeping our finance system transparent and solvent. Bond evaluating agencies routinely certified junk to be gold, and between them all, Middle America has been plundered. If indignation at the arrogance of power is intrinsic to American politics, let us hope that this trait stems from a deeper cultural value of fair play, and not merely from the sheer partisanship to which our party system has descended.
The reservoir of American values is deep enough to nourish this land back from the recent plague of thieves we have had to endure. Among them, in due course will be due process in the courts, and justice. But, midstream as we are in a building torrent this spring, it would be useful if we could draw on another of our bedrock values, the value of shame. Just as it is an embarrassment to democracy to give Obama no time to achieve results, it is an embarrassment to America that we have forgotten the value of shame. I, for one, see a real lesson for future generations being missed as the line of thieves lengthens. In colonial times, the community knew how to behave not just by its laws and law enforcement. We learned to behave through the lessons taught by shame.
Our economy has not collapsed due to hidden, uncontrollable forces. Malign acts lie at the heart of the foreclosure, stock collapse, and financial meltdown crises. At the core of the problem we find malign men, and for them public ridicule and shame are needed. In Williamsburg they still have one available: bring back the pillory.
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