Bob Franken

The Truth about “Truth Commissions”


“Truth Commissions” are spouting like weeds, and as with weeds, the need to find out what happened threatens to choke off efforts to do something about the problems.

We have the investigation into torture that is torturing us with debate over whether there should be an investigation. And there’s the newly formed panel of heavyweights with subpoena power to probe how we got into this financial sewer and who got us there.

Heaven knows that recriminations are justified in both cases. One can only hope, however, that the focus is not just on lawbreakers and criminal actions.

What’s even more important will be shedding light on conduct that should have been against the law and should have been criminal, but was not. The bad guys we’re looking for were expert at staying on that fine line between what’s criminal and what’s merely sleazy. That’s why they had/have lawyers.

And that’s why they had/have lobbyists, whose reason for existing is to manipulate the legal system away from protecting the public. They are successful at holding politicians at bay by keeping them in their pockets and greasing their palms with campaign money. As far as torture is concerned, the apologists have had some success in making this an either/or debate about national security.

It is really important, though, that a rush to place blame not get in the way of the plod to reform. What we continue to witness is special interests pulling out all the stops to protect their precious interests. They’re effectively employing the tools they’ve always used: distortion and influence peddling.

A case can be made that we would play into their hands if the process is tied into knots by retribution. While those whose careless greed and callous action is responsible for our deep trouble arguably should be held up to ridicule, our political system could be paralyzed by the uproar over any efforts at revenge. And that’s what we’re talking about — revenge.

Worst of all, it could be political revenge. We have no room for that, as both sides can play that game.

Besides, it is not worthy of us. Revenge might seem sweet, but not if the movement toward meaningful regulation is brought to a halt as we watch people squirm.

There is a gargantuan job ahead. Our country needs massive repair. It’ll take every bit of energy we have. As tempting as it is to call out the ones responsible for dragging us down, maybe it’s better to undo their damage and make it much harder for them to inflict more.

It quite possibly comes down to a choice: ostracize the wrongdoers or untangle the wrongs. The real “truth” is we don’t have the capacity to do both.

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