HJ-ED-DHJHerald Journal Columns
April 9, 2007, Herald Journal

Political amnesia

By IVAN RACONTEUR

A mysterious medical condition is creeping across America.

It is not a new condition, but it is spreading, and its consequences will affect us all.

Anyone who has paid any attention to the news recently has seen the terrible impact of this affliction.

In a way, it is surprising that it has not received more attention, because it does not involve the nameless, faceless masses, but the privileged classes, specifically our elected officials and their appointees.

The disease is political amnesia.

It can affect people of any age, gender, or political affiliation.

It generally strikes about the time the excrement hits the fan, such as when a politician is caught in a compromising position, or in the midst of a scandal.

Apparently, it is a selective condition. It does not erase all of the victim’s memory. In fact, it seems to wipe out only the recollection of details related to whatever scandal is currently under investigation.

While selective, it is a powerful disease, and even when confronted with the facts, in the form of the testimony of witnesses, or written, photographic or recorded evidence, the afflicted parties still deny any knowledge of the situation.

The victims say they would like to help us understand how the situation came about, but they just can’t recall the conversation or their involvement in the scandal.

They may smile, and even admit that they are embarrassed by their memory lapse, but they say they simply can’t remember.

This was the case with General Services Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan, who recently appeared before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

She was certain that nothing improper occurred, but she was equally sure that she had no recollection of what actually did occur, including a video conference in which she participated.

Investigators dredged up a PowerPoint presentation from the conference, which may have violated a federal law that prohibits federal employees and agencies from engaging in political activity on the job (there really is such a law).

Doan acknowledges attending the meeting, but denies any recollection of the presentation.

She also seems to have difficulty remembering asking her employees how they could help certain political candidates in the next election, and details about other activities in her office related to government contracts.

The disease has also infiltrated the Justice Department.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was apparently struck by the malady about the time the firing of a bunch of federal prosecutors hit the headlines.

As an attorney, Mr. Gonzales presumably remembers a lot of things, but once the disease hit him, he became very confused about his knowledge of, or involvement in, the firings.

These are just two of the many cases that have been identified.

Political amnesia is a frightening thing, and it is often misunderstood.

In some cases, when politicians have denied any knowledge of a scandal, mean-spirited critics have referred to this as “The Sergeant Schultz Defense,” in reference to the character in the “Hogan’s Heroes” television series, who knew nothing and saw nothing.

This, of course, shows a lack of understanding. Sergeant Schultz knew what was going on, but chose to ignore it. Our esteemed public servants would never deliberately deny knowledge of something just to keep their over-paid tails out of the proverbial wringer.

They would certainly help us find the truth if they could. It is just that this awful disease has erased that portion of their memories.

These poor (or, rather, unfortunate) politicians need our help and understanding.

No one has yet been able to identify the cause of the affliction.

Perhaps it is caused by something in the water inside The Beltway.

Maybe it is brought on by the terrible stress these people endure as they devote their lives to serving their country.

Whatever the cause, we need to come together as a nation to eradicate the disease. The sooner we can wipe out political amnesia, the sooner we will be able to enjoy truth and accountability in government, and this is something from which all of us, including our politicians, will benefit.