Sara Robinson’s “The Truth about Consequences”

A truly outstanding and stirring piece by Sara Robinson, taking both sides of American politics to task over the CIA torture and other actions of the Bush regime that Obama has said he wants to move on past – starting with noting the difference between conservative and liberal concepts of authority, freedom and justice:

Understanding that difference may explain something about how we got here.

For conservatives, the goal of discipline is to assert the power of external authority. In their worldview, most people aren’t capable of self-discipline. They can’t be trusted to behave unless there’s someone stronger in control who’s willing to scare them back into line when they misbehave. Don’t question the rules. Don’t defy authority. Just do what you’re told, and you’ll be fine. But cross that line, dammit, and there will be hell to pay.

In this view, the whole point of punishment is for greater beings (richer, whiter, older, male) to impress the extent of their authority upon lesser beings (poorer, darker, younger, female). I’m in control, I make the rules, and I’m the only one of us entitled to use force to get my way. Since emotional and/or physical domination is the goal, the punishments themselves often use some kind of emotional or physical violence to drive home that point. Spanking, humiliation, arrest, jail and torture all fill the bill quite nicely. I’m not interested in what you think. Do as I say, or I will be within my rights to do whatever it takes to make you behave.

Note, too, the hierarchical nature of this system. Those at the top of the heap enjoy the freedom that comes with never being held accountable by anyone. This exemption is implicit in conservative notions of “liberty,” and is considered an inalienable (if not divine) right of fathers, bosses, religious leaders, politicians, and anyone else on the right who holds power over others. The privilege of controlling others’ liberty, without enduring reciprocal constraints on your own, is at the heart of the true meaning of “freedom.”

Liberal parenting books, on the other hand, talk a lot about “logical and natural consequences.” Since liberals believe that most people are perfectly capable of making good moral choices without constant oversight from some outside authority, the goal of discipline is to strengthen the child’s internal decision-making skills in order to prepare him for adult self-governance.

…I don’t have research on this, but I’m pretty sure that after eight years of the most lawless presidency in history, most of us had “restoring real accountability” fairly high up on the Hope and Change list when we cast our votes for Barack Obama. We were craving that even-handed, reasonable, cleansing moment—a season of transparency that would show us where we went wrong, let some air and light into the wounds, and allow us to begin to heal. He sounded for all the world like the kind of morally serious person who understands the difference between right and wrong—and between that kind of old-fashioned even-handed inquiry that simply finds what it finds and deals with miscreants without fear or favor, according to the demands of the law; and a partisan witch hunt that’s conducted for no higher purpose than terrorizing your opponents into submission with naked displays of unchecked power. He seemed like just the guy to do it.

So the last thing we expected was to hear him warbling that same terrified-Democrat line, starting within days of his inauguration. Fortunately, as outrage over the torture memos spreads, both the President and Congressional Democrats seem to finding their moral feet again. And not a moment too soon, either—because if they blow this one, it’s nothing short of the end of America as we know it.

When the administration says that “we’re not looking backward” and “we’re not out to assign blame or punish anyone,” what it’s really saying is that there no longer any real relationship between cause and effect in our government. The very idea of consequences has absolutely no meaning. If you have access to enough money and/or power, there is nothing you can say or do, no amount of money you can steal, no lie perfidious enough, no fraud brazen enough, no treason heinous enough, to get you so much as called up before a hearing to explain yourself.

And that’s a truly frightening development.
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