Opinion: Balancing accountability and retribution


Crowds chanted, “Ma, ma, where’s my pa?” Everyone knew the story. The president had displeased the electorate. Well, there must have been some voters among the hordes, and they were letting him know about it. Not quite “Let’s go, Brandon,” the president at the time is likely to have benefited from the scandal to become the only one elected to two nonconsecutive terms.  The Whiskey Ring, Tea Pot Dome, Watergate, Whitewater and Iran-Contra all dominated American attention.

We might recall from firsthand memory or from being a U.S. or presidential history buff. But for many of us, we’ll have to look up their etymology. Maybe our recollections are better served by Monica, Stormy, Marilyn or Sally. Whatever the context was, they were all at the heart of political and social controversy in their respective times. Barrels of ink were dedicated to fueling the furor. Then, it all passed. The republic survived. In many cases, the politicians at the heart of the scandals rose to greater popularity with their stalwarts as some sort of martyred scoundrel.

The Tower of London has been filled with “law breakers” who formerly ruled. Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I were jailed for crimes against the Crown. The Doges of Venice held office for life if they could hold onto it. Many believe that Russian President Vladimir Putin refuses to leave office because of the threat of his prosecution after leaving power.

Deserved or not, exile, imprisonment, brutal torture and isolation have often been the result of a life of government service for much of the world. So here at home, how do we vet our rightful indignation with our leaders without creating incentive for them to never leave peacefully – or not run at all? What’s our balance between accountability and retribution?  And what is its cost?