America – Haven’t We Learned Anything?

I have been struggling to write about a confluence of events where we seemed to have lost our perspective on right and wrong. Last week, I expressed my kudos to Senator John McCain for his standing up against the new McCarthyism of the Bachmann Five, but it did not accomplish what it needed and the Bachmann Five has doubled down on making accusations without supporting evidence. Not to be outdone, Senator Harry Reid decided to make accusations toward former Governor Mitt Romney about what is and isn’t on his tax returns without ever having seen them. He is relying on innuendo and hearsay. There is no doubt Romney has done himself and his constituents a disservice by not releasing the returns, but Reid’s comments cannot be condoned without supporting evidence.

Unfortunately, these are just examples of what routinely transpires in today’s American culture and its version of leadership. You would think we would have learned our lessons based on unsubstantiated claims of the past – where the Nazis got away with saying the Jews were an inferior race until it was too late, where Religious leaders turned a blind eye, or worse, perpetuated the belief African-Americans were inferior to whites even into the 1960’s, where the US Marine Corps denied and ¬†misled the public about claims the water at Camp Lejeune in NC has been harming people for decades, where Penn State turned a blind eye and facilitated predatory sexual behavior of one of its coaches, where the Catholic Church lied to everyone about the misconduct of its priests and those who perpetuated their criminal behavior and so on.

On a daily basis, we witness business leaders making claims that an issue is not a problem when it is in fact far worse than even they know. We see them create an environment where it is OK to cut corners and push the envelope and when illicit or unethical actions are discovered, say they had no idea that was going on. For example, Rupert Murdoch is most guilty of creating a culture that perpetuated misbehavior. He may not have bugged the phones, but he created an environment where it was OK. The same could be said for the leaders at many financial institutions who are too many to name.

We witness religious leaders make outrageous claims using their written word as a weapon rather than a welcome. When people say some Christian evangelicals are using the same tactics with the LGBT community as they did with the African-American community, they are not incorrect. What was done to the African-American community was far worse where many were killed and imprisoned, but there are many of the same elements in the accusations. When religions exclude they are at their worst. When they are inclusive, they are at their finest.

We need people to call people out for stances that are obviously inappropriate or based on contrived evidence. We also need to call out the people who are rallying behind them and cheerleading these poor behaviors. Michele Bachmann and her cohorts (Louie Gohmert, Lynn Westmoreland, Trent Franks and Thomas Rooney) are doing a disservice to America and should be called out even more. When asked for evidence supporting their claim, they will hedge a little, but their finger-pointing is pretty clear in their written word. The fact that Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich are in support should be very telling there is not a lot of substance behind their claims.

I must confess I have always felt Harry Reid was a grandstander, so when he made his claims about knowing what is on Romney’s tax returns without evidence, it was not a total surprise. This follows on his making a ruckus over the US Olympic uniforms. Yet, in this case, he deserves any criticism since he is making claims without knowledge. If we are going to be critical of the Birther crowd, we should be critical of others who are making unsubstantiated claims. Unlike the Birther claims, there may be some interesting things on Romney’s unreleased tax returns, but we do not know that. We can all speculate, but that is all it is at this point – speculation.

We need to call out behavior that is inappropriate. When the Maiden, NC minister said in the pulpit on video that we should put gays behind an electrified fence and let them die off, people in the church should vote with their feet and leave that church – his comments represent bigotry and should not be condoned. When the entire panel of GOP Presidential candidates let an audience boo a gay soldier without repercussion, both the booing and the silence of the candidates was shameful and should not be condoned. When politicians, in general, let people in their audience say hateful or terribly wrong things, that is also inappropriate.

We should expect more from our leaders. We need them to be closer to the ideal of exemplary behavior. When they fall short, it is worse than when Average Joe falls short. It could be argued from many fronts that Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon had successful presidencies. But, each of them lied to the American people – Clinton about the Lewinsky affair, Reagan about the Iran-Contra issue and Nixon, of course, about Watergate. Even George W. Bush, who few would claim had a successful presidency, lied to the American people (and United Nations) about the reasons for going to war with Iraq.

Unfortunately, it takes a great deal of effort to understand the real stories underneath the public relations stories. As a result, we desperately need our leaders to know more than we do and act with judicious stewardship. When the Bachmanns and Reids of the world make claims like they have, we are ill-served. If we cannot trust our leaders, then we will need to look to each other in the vacuum they have created. Let’s hold our leaders and each other accountable. Whether they are up to it or not, we still need to make sure they know we are watching.




14 thoughts on “America – Haven’t We Learned Anything?

  1. Great blog! But in answer to your leading question: no. We haven’t learned anything. We are as a nation ignorant of history and unwilling to look beyond our noses at the problems that surround us. We would prefer to focus on the immediate and essential: what concerns each of us here and now. The larger problems “out there” will take care of themselves. Or someone else will solve them. We are both lazy and a bit stupid. So the demagogues will continue to spout off and remain unchecked and people will swallow what they want to hear and when the sky falls they will be outraged and look for someone else to blame. So it goes.

    • I unfortunately must agree with you in a number of respects. Our only hope is the legion of truthseekers whose job is to spread as much awareness as they can. The dilemma is the internet is both an enabler and a challenge as it is harder to discern who the truthtellers are and the ones who are embellishing the truth or outright lying.

      • Isn’t this a Catch 22? In order top tell the frauds from the friends one needs critical skills that are learned in school — presumably. But as the schools continue their downward spiral those skills will not be taught. As a result there will be fewer and fewer people spreading awareness and even fewer who even want to be aware. It’s easier to just muddle along. I hope I’m wrong. We need more people like you and Jennifer!

      • Thanks Hugh. Interesting point. I was watching CBS Morning News (since Charlie Rose is on there, that is the best of the three) and they had Rashidi Jones, an actress and screenplay writer. She went to Harvard and she said it helped her think critically and ask questions of things. To your point, that is the greatest gift a college can do for a student. Teach them how to think.

  2. So true. I really appreciate the fact that you always site specific data to support your opinions. We need more of that! I always feel like I would feel confident repeating whatever you write here because it is basedon fact and not conjecture and grandstanding. Thanks for that!

    • Thanks Jennifer for the vote of confidence. I try to be factual, so if you ever doubt something, please raise a question. On occasion, I have gone back and reworded some previous posts, when the facts were less crystal clear in retrospect to amend or caveat a statement.

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree the significant majority of Americans have a sense of right and wrong or fair play. Yet, a majority are now less informed than they need to be, so politicians and leaders get away with saying things that are not grounded in fact. We need leaders to be better stewards with our trust. Many have misplaced it.

      • Leaders are not out to be stewards. They are out to exercise mind control and power, and to make money.

        My Economics 301 professor at Texas A&M University was Phil Gramm. He had tenure, and that was in 1976. A couple years later he gave up his protected professorship and became a politician. I never could understand why since his tenured professorship paid around $125,000 annually.

        Then, in 1998, when he retired from the United States Senate, I found out why. He retired with a “campaign war chest” of $64 million. They get to keep that money! He never would have made that amount of money over his lifetime as a tenured professor. That told me why the du Ponts, Kennedys, Heinzes, and others become politicians. It has nothing to do with helping the country or being stewards with our trust. All money and power. That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it……

  3. Very interesting post! In my opinion, Romney is not hiding tax returns because he evaded taxes, but rather because of his offshore investments. This would be unpopular with US voters considering the job market. However, as an employee of Bain Capital, offshore investments are almost mandatory. Romney should not be pressured to release hsi tax returns unless any evidence suggests that he evaded the law.

    • May be the reason why the congressmen don’t want to release their tax returns. You probably saw the “60 Minutes” episode on insider trading in Congress. It was so pertinent, they actually passed a bill. Thanks for writing and reading. Keep your writing up as well. It is very though provoking.

    • Of course, Reid is in no hurry to release his. I think it probably shows Romney made a bucket load of money, which he chose to shelter, like you say. The only smoking gun I could think of was maybe receiving Bain compensation after he left Bain. Of course, all of our discussion is speculation. I think Reid is being very Machiavellian to force Romney’s hand or is doing him a favor by making the alleged assertion.

  4. Another great post. Sadly, it seems like we as a country haven’t learned much at all over the last decade. If anything, our political discourse has become more vitriolic and hyperbolic in the past decade, rather than less. Harry Reid and Michele Bachmann’s accusations seem to exemplify a large part of the problem, which you mentioned: there doesn’t seem to be any downside for either of them. No one can prove Reid wrong (unless Romney releases his taxes, which doesn’t seem likely), and the Bachmann Five (nice name for them, by the way) haven’t shown any inclination to back down, so it seems they will never be held accountable for their actions. It’s all politics, and much of it is shameful. You’re right – we Americans need to do a better job of holding them accountable.

    • Thanks for reading and your comments. I am glad you liked the Bachmann Five. I had it down to the McCarthy Five and that one. Keep up your thoughtful posts. I enjoy your perspective.

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