Most corporations today are concerned about the “tone” (attitudes and actions) of top corporate officers because that is what all the subordinates lower in the organization see and assume is acceptable behavior. These corporations all have written codes of conduct and if written words were sufficient, there would be no need for any anti-trust or tax evasion activity by the Justice Department. But corporations are filled with real people who possess varying motives, loyalties, personalities, and behaviors. The proper tone at the top is no guarentee of avoiding unethical or criminal activity but it is a very positive step in minimizing and subsequently detecting these unwanted actions that are in conflict with laws and regulations. A tone at the top that reflects looking the other way or openingly endorses activities that flaunt laws and regulations is almost assured to be followed someplace in the organization with unethical or worse behavior.
By the same token, the US Government is like a very large corporation. The Presdient is our CEO. He plus his cabinet leaders are the senior officers and through their behavior and fulfillment of their cabinet duties set the tone for our country. Co-presidents Bush and Cheney have set a standard that we should all hope is not repeated no matter which party wins the next election.
Bush and Cheney are men who think they are on an important mission and that the ends justify a much wider range of means than has previously been viewed as acceptable. Cases in point:
1. Convinced that the Middle East needed “regime change” and continued strong long term American influence, they concocted an elaborate fabrication of mis-truths to claim Iraq represented an imminent threat. Bush and Cheney then lead the country into a war that was both unwise and unnecessary.
2. Possessing only ideological guidance, Bush and Cheney had no interest or ability at setting policies or plans that would assure the winning of the peace following the invasion. Further since long term presence and control of the Iraqi government was their goal, there was little concern in the White House that the war was dragging on and death and destruction was mounting with Iraqi civilians. Katrina, the Walter Reed scandal, and the recent student loan kick-backs (no over sight) all flow from the same managerial style.
3. The “war on terror” which is a brilliant political statement. It fits the conservative fundamentalist view of the world divided into good and evil. So, the President declared war on evil, whoever that was. Who could possibly be against that? Anyone who voiced support or even questioned the targeting of others as “evil” were also branded as an enemy sympathizer. Whatever happened to due process? Alberto Gonzales, then President Bush’s personal lawyer was tapped to craft some language that would give a legal standing to denying US citizens as well as anyone found in the war on terror “rights” of a US citizen as well as the Geneva Convention. Rendition, extraordinary interrogation methods, unlimited detention without charges orrepresentation, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo are all products of this tone.
4. Fast forward to today. Attorney General Gonzales has recently testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and over 70 times used the phrased “to the best of my memory, I can not recall…” Once or maybe twice might be ok but this many times either represents someone hiding something or someone not up to the task of being the highest US justice official. In either case, there is only one honorable thing to do and that would be to resign. It is no surprise that Gonzales has elected to stay and Presidents Bush and Cheney have backed him.
What is most worrisome about this foul “tone at the top” is that it was not evident during Bush’s 2000 campaign. It was evident fairly early following the election that Bush preferred to use political appointees and leave things to others. The tragedy of 9/11 let the goblins out of their box (Kristol, Pearl, Wolfowicz, and Feith). Cheney set the sails and the rest was history. How can we avoid this in 2008?
I am not sure but would offer these recommendations:
1. Do not accept euphemism like “war on terror”, “clear air act”, “no child left behind”, “sanctity of marriage”, and “victory”. Instead we should insist that the candidates be specific and describe exactly who and what they are referring to.
2. Be absolutely certain that either party can produce a successful next government and either party can also be a complete bust. So there should be no room for candidate Rudy Giuliani’s statement that there will be terrorist attacks if the Democrats are elected. This is shameful and should be repudiated.
3. Monitor the broad spectrum of political opinion including far right and far left. Truth and practicality will lie way in between.
4. Be very skeptical of regular television news or news/talk shows. You will see the same faces on these programs and the shows have become extensions of the candidate’s campaign. It is ok to watch but don’t believe what is said without much more information.
5. This will be an election where the lesser menace of two unknown candidates will probably be the best bet. Each candidate will have attributes that some group is deeply concerned about (either positive or negative). Look what the “right to life group” got by supporting Bush; they got two Supreme Court Justices and over 3000 unnecessary deaths of Americans in Iraq coupled with 100’s of thousands Iraqi civilian deaths. What type of right to life is that?