America's Core Moral Baseline

Andrew returns for a moment:

This is what Bush and Cheney truly achieved in their tragic response to 9/11: two terribly failed, brutally expensive wars, the revival of sectarian warfare and genocide in the Middle East, the end of America's global moral authority, the empowerment of Iran's and North Korea's dictatorships, and the nightmares of Gitmo and Bagram still haunting the new administration.

But what they did to the culture - how they systematically dismantled core American values like the prohibition on torture and respect for the rule of law - is the worst and most enduring of the legacies.

One political party in this country is now explicitly pro-torture, and wants to restore a torture regime if it regains power. Decent conservatives for the most part simply looked the other way. Unless these cultural forces in defense of violence and torture are defeated - not appeased or excused, but defeated - America will never return the way it once was. Electing a new president was the start and not the end of this. He is flawed, as every president is, but in my view, the scale of the mess he inherited demands some slack. Any new criminal investigation which scapegoats those at the bottom while protecting the guilty men and women who made it happen is a travesty of justice. If it is the end and not the beginning of accountability, it will be worse than nothing.

I'm almost certain it's the end, and not the beginning. I just don't see the political will, nor the political backing among the people, to take this to the top. What I expect is that the authors of the torture policy will siuffer no legal consequences, while the agents who didn't follow theĀ  exact per-gallon parameters for water-boarding will take the hit.

But I'm more interested in the notion of culture. Did Cheney and Bush really do this to us? Or did they just reveal what's always been at our core? Leadership is about, not simply doing the people's will, but trying to coax them toward things that you believe to be in their interest. So certainly leaders bear responsibility. But I'm very interested in where the average American sits in that equation. How much responsibility do we bear for this?