The Power of Public Sentiments



A society reveals its values, priorities and distribution of power in the way its rulers punish deviant behavior. Here are some examples for you to ponder:

Members of Congress were in an uproar recently over a MoveOn.Org political advertisement in the New York Times titled “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?” The following copy alerted readers to their belief that he may likely testify before Congress as a political General reflecting the rosy views on the Iraq war-quagmire by his commander-in-chief, George W. Bush.

How dare MoveOn.Org criticize a General in the midst of Bush’s war of choice, growled Republicans and some Democrats as the Senators rushed to overwhelmingly vote for a resolution condemning the ad?

How dare those many Americans who criticized Civil War Generals, World War Two Generals, Korean War Generals (remember General Douglas MacArthur) and Vietnam War Generals (remember General William Westmoreland)?

This kind of criticism inside Army, inside the Congress and among the citizenry has been as American as apple pie.

How come a similar uproar has not come forth about the many female U.S. soldiers in Iraq raped or sexually harassed by male soldiers who are often their superiors? Where are the generals to crack down on these outrages? This story was documented in a long cover story in the New York Times Magazine some months ago, citing numerous sources, including the Pentagon.

Senators demanded the resignation of Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) caught in a toilet sting operation at Minneapolis airport. Senator Craig–he now says foolishly so–pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct. For doing what? As Frank Rich described the situation in the New York Times: “He didn’t have sex in a public place. He didn’t expose himself. His toe tapping, hand signals and ‘wide stance’ were at most a form of flirtation.”

Conservative columnist, George Will expressed similar views.

The penalty for Senator Craig is likely termination of his Senate career but not one required by law. Just by pressure from his “pure” Senate colleagues.

Now contrast what should be required of George W. Bush by our Constitution, laws and international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory nation.

Plunging our nation into an unconstitutional war of massive carnage and cost, and committing numerous, repeated crimes along the way, from widespread torture in violation of U.S. law and the Geneva conventions to spying on Americans without court approval (a felony), does not agitate the Senators as did the airport toilet tapping.

Added to the Bush presidency’s serial and continuing crimes are his bungling and incompetence. He has enriched crooked corporations, burned tens of billions of taxpayer dollars and most seriously, deprived soldiers of sufficient body and humvee armor year after year, which has cost the lives and limbs of thousands of American GIs.

In a US court of law, such behavior would be judged criminal negligence.

Yet, there has been no demand from Congress for his impeachment, or his resignation, or even any support for Senator Russ Feingold’s modest resolution of censure (S.Res. 302 and 303).

Bush’s Justice Department has thrown the book at several plaintiff lawyers for paying people to be lead plaintiffs in securities fraud cases while not pursuing well over 90% of the corporate crooks who actually stole big money from investors and shareholders while paying themselves compensation beyond their dreams of avarice.

If the Department needed a bigger budget to go after this corporate crime wave, they should have requested it from Congress. The resulting fines and restitutions alone would have paid for such an enlarged law and order drive.

I am sure you can cite many examples of public hypocrisy, double standards and inverted priorities from your knowledge and experience. There are many explanations about why and how these powerbrokers and powerholders get away with such behavior.

But let us remember Abraham Lincoln’s observation about the power of “public sentiments.” We need to inform, focus and deliver a different quality and quantity of “public sentiments” directly to our allegedly public servants.

So that they start to sweat the big stuff.

RALPH NADER is the author of The Seventeen Traditions


Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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