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.