Op-ed: The shame game

  • By Bob Franken
  • Tuesday, June 16, 2015 4:05pm
  • Opinion

Jeb Bush is onto something, and it’s a shame. A book he co-wrote 20 years ago has come to light again, just as he has formally declared that he’s an official presidential candidate — now that’s he’s finished sucking all the money out of being an unannounced one.

In the book “Profiles in Character,” he includes a chapter touting the “Restoration of Shame,” his Scarlet Letter prescription for society: “One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct.” No shame, no gain.

Confronted with his own words, the man who is trying to present himself as, well, a compassionate conservative — which seems to be the Bush family term for “all things to all people” — Jeb says he has evolved, although he doesn’t disavow the idea that people should be forced to be ashamed of their misbehavior.

Let’s not allow those silly, bleeding-heart softies to dissuade candidate Bush. In fact, there is every reason to feel huge guilt about our disgraceful political process. Let’s start with him, since he has not really shown any embarrassment at the baldfaced way that he’s promised everyone everything as he has accumulated tens of millions of dollars to try to overwhelm his opponents in a deluge of money. Of course, he won’t; they, too, have been out there hustling for cash — groveling if necessary, changing positions depending on which group or individuals are the day’s panderees.

It’s not just the Republicans. Hillary and others in the Democratic wild bunch scrounge just as hard for the big bucks from those bloated by personal wealth and, by the way, personal agendas either based on ideology or self-enrichment. Nobody even bothers to concern him- or herself with the obvious: Those who give something want something, and it’s blatant hypocrisy to complain about economic inequality while holding your hand out to those who have accumulated massive riches.

Nor does anyone show just a twinge of discomfort as the candidates relentlessly demagogue the issues, whether it’s riling up the religious fanatics with their appeals to intolerance or keeping alive the flames that scorch Barack Obama because he’s, uh, different, if you know what I mean. As for Mr. Obama, he makes no apologies for refusing to play schmooze politics. Yes, the game is disgusting, but that’s how it is played. When he decides he really wants something, like trade legislation, passed, so much so that he condescends to visit his fellow Democrats on Capitol Hill, he antagonizes them to the point that they don’t hesitate to humiliate him by voting against his wishes. Of course, they’re also trembling because the ones who finance their campaigns have made it clear that they won’t back them next time. The contributors and their craven contributees make no bones about that. Shouldn’t they at least be somewhat self-conscious about their lack of political courage?

This goes far beyond politics. As a society, few in business show even a tad of remorse when they pull the rug out from workers in order to increase profits, or they band together to offer pathetic service, like the airlines have done, or inferior products. Everybody’s doing it, so nobody in the corporate world cares, unless some news organization decides that the conduct is so egregious that it’s worth a story. Then, the public-relations department jumps into action, and one single bedraggled consumer might expect a resolution. Maybe. Or maybe not.

The price we pay is that we don’t trust each other, for good reason. And that is really a huge shame.

Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.

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