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Robert Goodwin

Robert Goodwin

Robert J. Goodwin is CEO and co-founder of Executives Without Borders; former deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force and appointee at USAID, the State Department and the White House.

Fewer than 42 years

I have experienced and evaluated many zero-tolerance policies. On the surface, it may seem like a good idea to expel students for drinking in the dorms or end a professional's career for inappropriate behavior. But because the punishment for the offense is so severe, zero tolerance policies can lead to under-reporting of the behavior. And when incidents are not addressed, it can create a culture for more serious incidents and crimes to take place.

So now to Senator Harry Reid's insensitive and ridiculous remarks. They were something one might expect from an aging uncle whose lexicon is from a different era, but not from the majority leader of the Senate.

While many are calling for his resignation and making comparisons with Senator Trent Lott's situation, I believe there is a larger issue at stake. What exactly is the culture and climate in the Senate that would allow for such comments to take place? Were no lessons learned from Lott's ouster?

While we have made great strides in this country and have elected our first African-American president, we can't forget that Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated fewer than 42 years ago. The Emancipation Proclamation was signed less than 150 years ago.

So we can either call for Reid to resign or actually wake up to the fact that racial and ethnic issues are still very real and raw in the United States, and even in our Congress. We can use this as a teaching moment to redouble our efforts for reconciliation. We ultimately need to create a culture that does not tolerate such comments either in a public setting or behind closed doors.

Instead of another zero tolerance policy, we need freedom and openness to report and deal with such offenses. This kind of climate is difficult and takes courage, but there are existing playbooks of success within the military and government agencies. The integration of our armed forces being one. Maybe it's time that the same programs that worked for our civil servants should be applied to our public servants. That way we can continue to build on a more positive future instead of avoiding the issues left over from a troubled past.

By Robert Goodwin

 |  January 14, 2010; 5:39 AM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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