Sunday, January 18, 2009

Forgive and forget? Pass the amnesia


Why do our instincts for forgiveness and mercy find their highest expression when exercised on behalf of the most powerful in the land? An example - Martha Stewart walks free after a couple of months at a spa that doubles as an incarceration unit for white collar criminals while some unemployed black kid with a couple of marijuana joints for sale gets sent up for twenty years. 

So here is Barack Obama saying he'd rather concentrate on the future then spend time recriminating about the errors of the Bush administration. At first glance, about the time we get to focus on a headline before moving on to other concerns, a ringing cell phone, a child whining for lunch, it seems an admirable decision, in line with Obama's high road political style which has won him so much in so little time. But there's the matter of accountability that gets left out when we rush into the future. On the other hand I believe our easy going democracy is what sets us apart from many nations.  I remember for instance when I lived in England and watched parliamentary dealings on the BBC and couldn't help but cringe when the Honorable George Jones from Merseyside bellowed for someone's hide because the pound had devalued unexpectedly. Here Washington seems so far away it's easy for us to pretend it didn't happen - there never were orders for torture, never was a rush to war based on misinformation and propaganda that made the Soviets seem like amateurs, never was an energy policy drawn up behind closed doors in sessions with oil industry executives. Our ship seems righted once more, so why not get on with things? Don't worry, be happy.

But wouldn't it be great if the rich and powerful were made to actually feel the pain of their decisions? Or is it better to forgive and forget? I believe the criminality of the Bush administration, carried over from past Republican administrations, needs to be dealt with in a more serious manner if we aren't intending to suffer historical amnesia. Do I think there will be commissions appointed, war crimes trials and the like in Washington any time in the future? Not any more likely than the revolution of the powerless. A better bet is a black guy getting the death penalty for shooting a cop. If you want a morality play go to the movies. Every thing else is also anesthesia.
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