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The Blame-and-Shame Game


Pointing fingers is not what the country needs.

Just past noon 2 weeks ago, I thought the message was amazing: hope, accountability, inclusion, responsibility and change. Great words by someone I believe to be a great man.

Since then, however, his words (and the words of his team) have changed dramatically -"shameful" and "irresponsible" quickly come to mind.

Don't get me wrong, with the all-but-certain need to ask for more money to recapitalize the financial system, I understand the great attraction and political expedience of banker-bashing. But at the risk of telling the new administration how to handle things, I would offer that the blame-and-shame game is not becoming.

From my perspective, there's a very fine line between shaming others and self-righteousness. There are many things in my past that, in hindsight, I know I would never do again. My guess is that's probably now true for Messers Geithner and Daschle, not to mention Secretary Clinton (Whitewater), Dr. Summers (comments at Harvard), Senator Dodd (Friend of Mozillo) and Vice President Biden (unequivocal support of his home state's credit-card industry).

By focusing criticism on others, we all but demand the same on ourselves. And as a now-humbled Michael Phelps just learned, in this internet world there are plenty of people out there ready to aim their slingshots -- often in the form of cell-phone cameras -- at each of us, and the distance between the Olympic podium and the tabloid page is now far too short.

I also believe that in these times, laying blame is equally inappropriate. Beyond its backward-looking focus and exclusionary result, from where I stand, there's plenty of blame to go around. Maybe second only to nuclear energy, banks and brokerages are the most highly regulated entities in this country: Regulators have dedicated office space within most of our largest financial services firms. Where were the shareholder revolts around the $50 million executive compensation package? Where was the public outrage when NINJA loans were being made in our nation's poorest neighborhoods?

In a world where white goes to gray goes to black, not in moments but in years and decades, we all in some way own our current plight.

So rather than focusing divisive rhetoric on our past, we need to draw our attention to the present, and more importantly, to the future we desire. Like the captain of a ship that has gone off-course at sea, let us not forget that we still need that same crew to make it back to shore. Now is not the time to scorn and condemn (history will provide plenty of time for that), but to encourage.

As I repeatedly offer to my children: "Clasped hands can't point fingers." And the last time I checked, we're all Americans with great hope in our future.

But as my kids will also tell you, now is a time "to live the word 'despite;'" to accept we're where we are and to assume the self responsibility and individual accountability necessary to not only endure, but to trounce our current circumstances - despite.

Those are the words I heard 2 weeks ago. And those are the actions I now long to see and to be a part of.

To our leaders in Washington and around our great nation, it's time to lead us forward, despite.
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