Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Been There, Done That

Frank Rich in New York magazine, his new home:

What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these. Chronic unemployment remains a constant, painful reminder of the havoc inflicted on the bust’s innocent victims. As the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have it, America will be stalked by its foul and unresolved crimes until they “are burnt and purged away.”

Although Mr. Rich articulates it well, this is not something new. In the recent history of America — certainly within the last century — the people responsible for our economic calamities, either through incompetence or intention, have never been held accountable. They have walked away, leaving the minions who did their work for them to either face little punishment, or, at the worst, public shaming for a short while before being rehabilitated as the next “experienced hand” in the next iteration of their old business.

The same holds true in other atrocities: the men who led us into Vietnam were never held accountable. They became senior statesmen; the eminence gris on C-SPAN panels, selling books and gently reminding us of those days when we trusted them. The same will happen with the people who led us to Iraq and to the financial crisis we’re in now.

President Obama did not pursue the malefactors of the previous administration. Perhaps he should have, but then, America is both a very forgiving nation and incredibly short-sighted. We don’t want to revisit the past and be reminded of our faults and flaws that led us to where we are; we’d much rather move forward and let history take care of the past. The problem with that is that instead of learning from our mistakes, we tend to see them as a nostalgic bit of déjà vu.