Commentary: Whatever happened to shame?

By Janet Williams 

Ever wonder what happened to that quaint old notion of shame?

You know what shame is, don’t you? It’s the sensation of embarrassment and humiliation when you recognize that you have done something wrong, that you have offended the sensibilities of honorable people.

Janet Williams, editor,

I began wondering about that notion when former Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr suggested that special counsel Robert Mueller might be overstepping his authority as he investigates the influence of Russia on last year’s presidential election.

My first thought was have you no shame, sir?

Starr, after all, was the special prosecutor who began investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton and a land deal in Arkansas called Whitewater and ended up pursuing then-President Clinton for lying about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

How was that related to Whitewater?

I am not suggesting that Clinton was an innocent man. He lied. His behavior was shameful, but for Starr to criticize Mueller for pursuing the Russia investigation where it may go is an affront to our collective sense of decency.

It is also instructive to remember that Starr was ousted as president of Baylor University last year after the school, under his leadership, mishandled an investigation into a sexual assault scandal involving the football team.

As our politics have coarsened, some of the greatest offenders of our sense of decency have felt free to raise their hypocritical voices on issues they have no right speak about.

Consider Newt Gingrich, one of Clinton’s sharpest critics who was having an affair himself while blasting the president for his relationship with his intern.

Gingrich continues to position himself as a sage of the political right as he defends the current president, whose behavior makes Clinton look like a Sunday school teacher.

Gingrich should be ashamed of his hypocritical self.

He has no sense of decency.

But neither do many of our political leaders. Look no further than Indiana for some examples.

What kind of decent human being would turn away suffering people from his doorstep? That would be then-Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president, who likes to call himself a Christian first.

Yet Pence had no qualms about banning Syrian refugees from Indiana last year, even though they were thoroughly vetted before even qualifying for refugee status. In spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, he insisted that he was protecting our state from the threat of terrorism.

Pence stuck to his story even after a federal appeals court struck down the Syrian refugee ban as discriminatory.

But then, he is the same guy who insisted that the Republican health care reforms in the House and Senate would benefit the majority of Americans. He stuck to that line even after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said millions could end up without health insurance if any of the GOP plans passed.

This isn’t about whose set of facts do you want to believe. This is about basic decency and how none of our political leaders feels of sense of shame when they openly lie and mislead us.

Closer to home, consider state Rep. Milo Smith, the Columbus, Indiana Republican who refused to allow a vote in the last state legislative session on a bill that would end the gerrymandering of state House and Senate districts. The bill would have put the job of redrawing legislative districts in the hands of an independent commission, ending the practice of tilting the balance in favor of either political party.

Hundreds attended the hearing last February and all but one person testified in favor of the bill, which was drafted by a commission headed by a retired state Supreme Court justice.

Smith’s reasons? He wasn’t sure it would work and he said he was concerned it could hurt the integrity of the Indiana General Assembly.


What hurts the integrity of the General Assembly is shamelessly refusing to give the public a vote on an issue that affects the foundation of our democracy and then concocting some story to justify your actions.

Whatever happened to that quaint notion of shame? It died when leaders from the White House to the Statehouse lost all sense of decency.  

Janet Williams is editor of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students. She can be reached at

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