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Healing the Body Politic, One Commission at a Time


Republicans aren't the only ones who push aside the Geneva conventions for political expediency. Democrats did so for the last two years, opting to wait out the Bush administration before engaging them on their crimes against humanity.

I held my breath, hoping that this bargain would be short-lived. Once we had the presidency again we could spend our national energies pursuing truth as much as we did prosperity.

Time to breathe deeply. Yes, this Obama Healing feels so good. But to keep it going, we will need constant doses of truth. Truth about the present. Truth about the past. President-elect Obama has promised that he won't lie about national problems. I hope this promise extends to recent events, too. The body politic is pocked with so many festering wounds that it's a miracle we haven't all died of infection.

So please, bring on the commissions! We need blue-ribbon commissions devoted to assembling and studying the best information possible about our past crises, including the Katrina catastrophe (for more information on the proposed 8/29 commission, click on www.levees.org). Documentaries and investigative reports shine the light. But they are not enough. Crises of this scope need the power and interest of bi-partisan fact-finders, capable of producing information that all sides can know and respect as true. This is the path necessary for the reconciliation that a "no red states and no blue states" Obama has promised to push us towards.

This is a delicate and dangerous undertaking. The questions of liability and blame loom large, and many rightly fear having official fingers pointed their way. Let sleeping dogs lay, warn some. But if we do so, how do we explain to generations to come that we were just too tired, or too afraid, to talk about what went wrong? Given what we've witnessed of Obama's even-handedness, his desire to have all sides heard and his push for conciliation, opponents should feel reassured that such commissions would not lead to blood-thirsty beheadings.

The fact is, we may never get the courtroom justice so many of us desire. The President-Elect only has so much political capital, and has so much reforming to do. But we can pursue facts. The simple act of truth-telling can help heal the aggrieved--and help the rest of us learn from the mistakes.

Without trusted fact-finders, we get trapped inside our competing narratives. Too many people still look to 24 for their understanding of the effectiveness of torture. Too many people still believe that on August 29th, 2005, the levees were purposefully blown up by explosives. Until we can get our facts straight, we will perpetuate our worst beliefs about each other. Until we honor and admit previous hurts against each other, the spiral will only keep rushing downwards.

We need blue-ribbon commissions to push us to consider the best information available, so that we move out of our comfort zones and resist the urge to accept only information that reinforces our previously held views. Done right, commissions can bring us closer to the reconciliation necessary to heal the body politic.

For without truth, pain flourishes and can harden into a hate that begets the worst violence. We must do our part, at every level, to be open to truth, even if it hurts. I'm looking to our new government to lead the way.