I didn’t think we’d need to deliberate about the public need for the truth, but I guess I was wrong. Hey, everybody…where is our Pecora investigation? As the Great Depression deepened, a full and relentless investigation, led by Ferdinand Pecora, probed into the corporate and political decisions that caused the crisis. Pecora was the chief counsel for the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking and Currency in 1933-34, uncovering a wide range of abusive practices on the part of banks and bank affiliates. The Senate hearings were broadcast on the radio, featuring Pecora’s questioning of corporate leaders. They galvanized wide public support for new banking and securities laws…some of which successfully stabilized our economy for decades. So where’s our fire-in-the-belly for the truth about our current Great Recession?
It seemed very straight forward and natural that a thorough investigation would start almost immediately after the economic meltdown in late 2008. But then the election had our attention, so we couldn’t start then. In the lame-duck days of the Bush Administration, no one wanted to start something that would probably change after the Inauguration, so we waited some more. Now…why are we still waiting? Sadly, it appears that what some of us thought was a foregone conclusion has developed a complexity that may need some significant public conversation. On the surface at least, it didn’t appear that we have deeply-held, emotionally-charged differences in values, concerning our need for an investigation. Underneath, however, the Obama Administration and the Congress obviously have at least a different timeline in mind and at most a completely different concept of public knowledge than many who want answers about the crisis before memories fade and records are ‘misplaced’ or ‘deleted.’
On April 3, 2009, William Black was one of the guests on Bill Moyers Journal…he said about our need to investigate the causes of our current, deepening financial crisis: “What would happen if after a plane crashes, we said, “Oh, we don’t want to look in the past. We want to be forward looking. Many people might have been, you know…we don’t want to pass blame. No. We have a nonpartisan, skilled inquiry. We spend lots of money on (it), and get really bright people. And we find out, to the best of our ability, what caused every single major plane crash in America. And because of that, aviation has an extraordinarily good safety record. We ought to follow the same policies in the financial sphere. We have to find out what caused the disasters, or we will keep reliving them. And here, we’ve got a double tragedy. It isn’t just that we are failing to learn from the mistakes of the past. We’re failing to learn from the successes of the past.”
But wait! The Pecora investigation wasn’t the only successful benchmark for public learning…we learned a lot in the Watergate hearings (1973-74), the Church Committee hearings (1975), the Iran-Contra hearings (1987) and the Keating Five hearings (1991). We even learned in the McCarthy hearings (1953-54) that we didn’t want a vendetta or a witch hunt. Each time, the public got to hear the questioning and the responses…and each time we learned more about the crisis under inspection and about what we as citizens in a democracy wanted in our government.
At present, it doesn’t appear that the Obama Administration sees any importance or urgency in investigating the fraud and cover-ups in the current economic meltdown, or the abuses of power of the Bush Administration Justice Department, or the erosion of constitutional rights after 9/11 or the allegations of a systemic policy of torture. If we were investigating even one or two of these critical issues in our recent past, it would be understandable to not have the time or resources for the others, but we’re not currently committed to any of these public learning curves. So…we’d probably better start talking about the public need for the truth, even when it’s a distraction from current legislative agendas. We can’t create a sustainable future on a foundation of uncertainty.