Accidental President Harry Truman was famous for, among other things, an 18-inch sign on his desk in the Oval Office. It read: “The Buck Stops Here.” By the way, that was a long time ago.
Since then, people have been trying, often with a political end in mind, to figure out just what “the buck stops here” really means.
Some say that Truman and others of “the buck stops here” school felt that the person in charge had to take ownership when something — or someone — under his or her command failed or did something horribly wrong.
Others believe Truman was saying that whether it was his fault or not, part of his job description as POTUS and commander-in-chief was that he was elected and paid to take the heat. And the blame. But that was in the mid-1940s. This is 2013.
Increasingly, politicians have refused to take the blame, even when we have videos of what they did or said. After first denying something, they then will say something like, “If anyone was offended, I apologize.” They don’t say that what they did or said was stupid, illegal, immoral or criminal. They say “if anyone” was offended…
Then, they go on to become TV talk show hosts or guests.
The “mistake” du jour, an orphan looking for its true parents, is the roll out — more correctly the non-rollout — of the Affordable Care Act (if you like it) or Obamacare (if you don’t).
As you know, it didn’t roll out so well and gleeful Republicans in Congress (as well as some angry and embarrassed Democrats too) want to know why it didn’t work and who was in charge. It’s a Washington version of the Where’s Waldo? game. Except, inside the Beltway, Waldo is never found.
At House hearings earlier this week, none of the government’s top technology officers could shed much, if any, light on the ACA’s tepid rollout. Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a smart, self-made millionaire who opposed the ACA, said it was clear that the CTOs, CIOs, and other top tech people weren’t going to claim ownership. Issa said the program, as far as the officials are concerned, “is an orphan.”
At some point, someone should have called a break and asked for someone to read the book “Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me),” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson. Many consider it the best explanation ever of our human tendency to blame others or justify our mistakes.
With the 24/7 media’s unrelenting search for things to write, report and talk about, and with the advent of cell phones and Twitter, we are getting more stuff — good, bad and ugly — all the time. So, was there ever a period when “the buck stops here” was taken seriously?
Carol Bonosaro, president of the Senior Executives Association, said you would have to go back a long way to find leaders who fall on their swords. Her group represents the government’s 7,000 career senior executives.
“I look at the situation and I’m trying to figure out who the hell is in charge? Is it the career people, is it the politicals, is it contractors?” she said.
She said true accountability is a mystery. “We’ve seen a lot of things [scandals] at the General Services Administration, the IRS and the VA where career civil servants were largely held responsible” for over-the-top conferences and allegations that conservative groups were targeted for special tax attention.
Career civil servants “are just hunkering down,” she said. “The feeling is that if they do anything they risk being hung out to dry.” She contrasted that with the private sector, “where people screw things up all the time.” Then they straighten it out “without a lot, or any, political oversight … they aren’t called before a congressional committee.”
Question: Can anybody remember the last time a political leader messed up, took the blame and then either moved on or moved out?
“You might want to double check your facts on Laura; although her BOOKS were not published until she was older, she was a regular columnist for the Missouri Ruralist between 1911 and 1924. She wrote under the name ‘Mrs. A.J. Wilder.’ I’d recommend ‘Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist,’ edited by Stephen W. Hines for readers that would like to know more. It was published in 2007; my copy came from the Memorial Society in DeSmet, S.D. when I visited Laura’s home there. It’s a great read and certainly a fine addition to any library.” — Ozark Fed
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