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To be a warning to others
On graffiti, the Oval Office, and the case for a national Hall of Shame
It would be a thoroughly American act to open a national Hall of Shame for former Presidents. Perhaps we could combine it with a tribute to graffiti.
■ Should we have some reverence for those who have served their country with dignity, courage, and good faith? Sure. But we've also had some pretty awful occupants of the Oval Office, and they ought to be shamed for it. Eternally.
■ That's how to police future behavior: By heckling the bad behavior of the past. There's room for more faces on Mount Rushmore, at least metaphorically, and people like Madison and Eisenhower deserve a place there.
■ But naming and shaming the bad Presidents is good for shaping the expectations for future leadership. Few people are immune to at least some consideration about how they will be remembered. Those who are so immune aren't likely to be constrained by social graces anyway.
■ It takes a while, of course, to figure out who's a real failure and who was under-appreciated in their own time, and we're always subject to a bias in favor of proximity: Things that are closer in time or space tend to seem bigger than they really are. But keeping up a lively assessment of the past helps to put the present in better perspective.