This is my latest blog post for the Courier Times
Thomas O. Meehan
Secretary Sebelius is now our latest luminary to take full responsibilityfor a gross collapse of our expectations. I think we need to redefine what taking responsibility means. Otherwise taking responsibility may be catching. Taking responsibility now means intoning the phrase as a sort of magic incantation, absolving one of any consequences.
I suspect that it’s too late to stop this, but we do need to quarantine the phrase as to who is allowed to use it. Obviously the President, who must never suffer consequences, is entitled to take responsibilityin this new way. This is especially true for minority and or Democrat Presidents. Republican Presidents are always assuming to be responsible for all negative events in the older meaning of the phrase.
High-level Female government figures can always take responsibility. Janet Reno, Janet Napolitano, Hillary Clinton and many others all took responsibility for the negative consequences of their acts. At the time this seemed almost brave in a way. And as Hillary Clinton said, “In the end, what difference does it make.” As an aside, I’m somewhat disappointed that Secretary Sebelius didn’t avail of this last option. Why didn’t she say, “Hey, it’s just a website!”
So we can see that for members of our administrative/political elites, taking responsibility is novel form of self-absolution. It’s like going to confession without the messy business of contrition or penance. It is a sacrament in our new non-judgmental faith.
There are problems however. What would happen if say, a murderer pled taking responsibility at his arraignment? Might he then have a case against any punitive sentence on the basis that he had alreadytaken responsibility? Can I just take responsibility for my bills? Iftaking responsibility equals getting off the hook, why couldn’t I just take responsibility for the Kennedy assassination and make millions of book sales as the true assassin?
Clearly people of the lower orders must never aspire to taking responsibility. They would only abuse it.
This leaves us with the question, why is this new formula gaining popularity among our leaders? My guess is that our leaders are no longer drawn from the ranks of those who actually do take responsibility. Our leaders are now drawn from the ranks of lawyers, academics and financiers. These are people who by definition avoid the world of praxis. They build nothing, fix nothing and they have no personal experience of how things actually work. Indeed, I would say that a great many of them take pride in never having to negotiate the physical world at all. I once worked with an Administrative Law Judge who recoiled when I suggested he fix an annoyance at his expensive roof top condo with the help of a few wooden dowels and a bed sheet. He simply would not lower himself to engage in this sort of lower class activity.
We all encounter this sort of decadence. “I have the money to pick up the phone and have anything I need done.” Being a man of many parts is no longer in fashion it seems.
It’s easy to see how this decadent mindset costs us when it comes to governmental management. These people occupy two addresses, in their heads, and among others just like them. Such people actually believe that things that work in theory must work in practice. People like the President and the small, incestuous crew around him have never actually managed complex systems that demand an understanding of how things work many layers below their own.
Nowhere is this more evident than when the Judiciary takes executive control of policy. In another life, I was deeply involved in the Affordable Housing issue in NJ. Judges appointed special “Masters,” to dictate housing policy and land use policy to New Jersey towns. And I mean dictate. Of course these Masters tended to be academic busybodies or political cronies who never built a thing in their lives. After thirty years, not much has changed except a lot of builders have made a lot of money using the new regime to get rich. This is exactly what happens when people who are word-meisters become our masters.
I don’t know the immediate solution. I know I prefer Doctors to Lawyers in our legislatures. When Doctors make mistakes, they may be in the room when the patient dies. Not so with lawyers. When academics are deluded, no one knows it until we are unwise enough to elect them.