The System Works: And Other Lies Our Leaders Tell Us
Have you noticed recently how often our leaders are making speeches that the system works? These speeches inevitably come on the heels of disclosures made available to the public that we are in truth a nation of rich and powerful men, not laws. The larger the abuse the bigger the lie. The problem is written off as an aberration or the act of some isolated individuals. Our leaders disavow any knowledge of the wrongdoing or any material connection to the wrongdoer. Victims are responsible for their plight. There is even a term for such a strategy in corporations and politics: "plausible deniability." The leaders deny the systemic causes and avoid any systemic change as a viable solution.
The Bush administration had the gall to tell Americans that the Enron story proves the system works. Not only were we told the system works, but we were also told that it is ingenious. I will give the administration credit for marching out Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill to tell that whopper. Can you imagine how Americans would have reacted if Bush spit out that Enron proves the "genius of capitalism?" Bush looked like the pathological liar played by John Lovitz on "Saturday Night Live" when he downplayed his connection to Enron Chairman Ken Lay. Someone needs to explain to our president what "plausible" means.
Paul O'Neill's words were a catch-22 in reverse. On one hand, the system works if failures remain hidden from the public. On the other, it works if the failures are exposed. Sorry, I do not buy his spin. A financial system that allows a few insiders to accumulate vast personal wealth by lying, cheating and stealing from employees, stakeholders, taxpayers, and creditors does not work just because it was finally exposed. A political system where public officials sell out the national interest to individual interests for a buck does not work.
Those of you who do not live in Boston may be missing one of the saddest chapters of institutional corruption in our nation's history. After doing everything in his power to obstruct justice over a period of years, Cardinal Bernard F. Law recently did a 180-degree turn and agreed to turn over to state officials the names of priests accused of molesting children. For years, Law had covered up hundreds, possibly thousands, of incidents of rape, sodomy, and molestation of children by priests within the Archdiocese of Boston. Law relented only after: (1) convictions of several priests in highly publicized cases; (2) a court order requiring the release of documents pertinent to these cases; and, (3) rejection of his offer of a public apology and provision of the names of future (but not past) offenders to officials. In the end, Law had the audacity to say publicly that he reached the decision to turn over the names of accused molesters to protect the children.
Law admitted that he "made mistakes" but could not bring himself to admit that there might be systemic issues within the Church. Priestly celibacy, the ban against female clergy, and the masturbation taboo remain unchallenged. According to Law, the problem is with a few afflicted individuals in this particular archdiocese. Law refused calls for his resignation. Sorry, Your Holiness, but a Church that covers up the rape of prepubescent children by men who represent Jesus Christ needs to do more than perform an act of contrition.
We are too close in time to comprehend the full extent of the corruption in the Florida election process and its ramifications. The stealing of the American presidency in the 2000 election should go down as one of the greatest thefts in American history, rivaling the stealing of lands from Native Americans and Mexico. The ramifications of the theft have been somewhat muted by the American public's view of Democrats and Republicans as being virtually interchangeable on a majority of issues and by our need to believe in the illusion of American democracy.
I do not subscribe to the theory that there is no significant difference between the parties. The Bush tax cut is evidence of that fact. The theft in Florida will lead to the greatest redistribution of wealth in our history. Personally, I am more understanding our individual and collective need to rely on illusions to accept our lot in life. If it is true, as Henry David Thoreau said, that "the mass of men live lives of quiet desperation," then it is also true that illusions help us escape that feeling of desperation. That cannot be all bad. Alas, James Baker and the conservatives on the United States Supreme Court stripped me of the notion that my vote counts.
All of the above abuses took place because of our individual and collective passivity. It is not being a team player to look the other way when the senior management of our companies commits fraud. It is not right to overlook the abuse of children to protect the name of our church and its leaders. It is not patriotic to waive the flag in support of democracy when we know our highest public office was not earned with votes. If we are to form a more-perfect union, we must be willing as individuals and a nation to stand up for what is right and against what is wrong.
Tell the truth and shame the devil.
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