The Capacity For Shame

The capacity for shame is an integral part of the human make up–linked directly to that most basic necessity to differentiate between right and wrong. While shame is often talked of negatively, the capacity to feel shame is actually a good thing, an indicator that not only does a person know the difference between right and wrong, but that they have an emotional response to it, that their own transgression hurts their core being.

One of the lessons of these long seven years is that Bush does not have this capacity.

Writer E.L. Doctorow eloquently outlined the argument in 2004 with his piece, “The Unfeeling President“, a damning record of just how void of human empathy the current president is.  Indeed, that crass inability to recognize his errors and feel that vital emotional connection to them was on full display earlier that year when he joked about not being able to find Weapons of Mass Destruction.  An error he made that he had plenty of sage advice telling him not to make, and resulted in destroying tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of families and lives.

Now, being able to laugh at one’s self is also an important part of being human.  It denotes grace under human fallibility, but let’s not kid ourselves, laughing at one’s self is something you do when you clumsily break one of the good plates or have a personality quirk that you can’t help.  It shows you aren’t thin skinned.

But the failures of Bush’s time in the White House extend far beyond the jurisdiction of self deprecation, and such dalliances point to a man without moral fiber.  Someone who can’t rightly differentiate between the minor flaws that all humans share, and the errors of catastrophic decisions that change the course of history for worse.  To George Bush, sending thousands of Americans to their deaths is by proxy a punchline, and no worse than dropping the milk and watching it spill on the kitchen floor.

That may seem like a harsh indictment, but we must remember the consequences to there being no WMD’s where he said they would be, and the various entities within the government willing to tell him so.  He made a mistake, and thousands lost their lives because of it.  This in and of itself does not mean the man is evil or immoral, it is the fact that he jokes about it afterwards that points to a serious flaw in his personality.

Nor has he changed much over the course of four years.  At an annual Gridiron roast, Bush decided to sing a little going away song:

Here he makes a mockery of his former FEMA head, a throwback to the Katrina debacle that saw an unready government leave thousands of citizens stranded in the disease ridden aftermath of the hurricane that flattened New Orleans.  Scooter Libby is a punchline to a joke that started with the outing of a CIA agent for political retribution.  Reminders of a White House gone wrong, overran with corruption and incompetence all of which resulting in real hardships for real people. 

This is not a good natured ability to see his own flaws, this is a lack of the capacity to feel shame, and not a laughing matter.  You can’t touch those brown grasses of home soon enough, Mr. President.  Not by half.

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