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Patricia McGinnis
Public Affairs leader

Patricia McGinnis

Former President and CEO of The Council for Excellence in Government, McGinnis teaches leadership at Georgetown University's Public Policy Institute and advises the White House on leadership programs for presidential appointees.

Divisive Issues

Freedom of speech applies to everyone, including Dick Cheney. His public comments on the release of Bush Administration memos on torture will be judged on their merits and considering the source. Their value is directly related to whether they contain new and relevant facts, or just convey the opinion of an ex-official who left office with a low public-trust quotient.

The reaction to the release of the memos after President Obama's repudiation of torture raises another question about gotcha politics and media priorities.

The values issues (torture, right to choose, prayer in the schools) are critically important but they always seem to get a disproportionate share of media commentary and divisive political grandstanding, compared to tough challenges--such as controlling the rising cost of health care, improving public education, reversing global warming--where nuance, complexity and openness to new understanding and innovative approaches can produce constructive change.

Let's hope that the further debate about past torture practices, whether to prosecute those involved, creation of a visible national commission or the release of photographs does not crowd out or diminish prospects for resolution of the rest of the public's agenda.

By Patricia McGinnis

 |  May 15, 2009; 10:44 AM ET
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