Thursday, September 15, 2005

Column on "taking responsibility"

The Fraud of ?Taking Responsibility?

Tibor R. Machan

Have you noticed this? Politicians can take responsibility without having
to experience any adverse consequences at all. When President George W.
Bush recently took responsibility of the federal government?s conduct in
the wake of hurricane Katrina, what exactly was he doing? What did he
think he was doing? Or his spin doctors? And when several Louisiana and
New Orleans politicians made similar announcements, what did these mean in
concrete terms? Where, one might resurrect the old question, is the beef?

Say you hit a pedestrian who?s walking across an intersection and who has
the right of way, because, say, you were messing with your CD player or
cell phone or just daydreaming. Later, once you have stopped blaming God,
the Devil, or your DNA?or, perhaps, your economic conditions or
institutional racism?you finally acknowledge that you were responsible for
the injuries the pedestrian sustained. Now what?

Presumably, you will go on to admit to a measure of moral and even
criminal negligence. This, in turn, will lead to prosecution and either
some huge fine and/or jail time. In short, the clear implication of being
responsible?that is, honestly taking responsibility?for the pedestrian?s
injuries is that you will shoulder some heavy burdens in the wake of what
you did or failed to do. The matter will not be treated as an act of
nature or God but as your doing, something you could have avoided doing
had you paid attention, had you chosen to act properly as you were driving
your vehicle.

Where is there anything comparable in President Bush?s ?taking
responsibility? for the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, or, for that
matter, anyone?s making such a claim? Nothing I can detect exhibits the
logic of genuinely taking responsibility?that is, of being responsible?for
bad things people do in these politicians? pretentious announcements. Are
they sent off to jail? Are they fined a good and hefty sum? Do they even
lose their jobs?

Now and then someone in government will be demoted or transferred to some
other position but is anyone who is supposedly responsible?and admits to
this?for bad things happening get his or her comeuppance? No. So then
what?s the point of making these announcements?

I confess to having a suspicion. The point seems to be to appear
conscientious, someone who comes to terms with his or her failings. But
failings produce adverse results and if all one does is babble on about
being responsible for those results without any bad thing happening to
one, this is all likely only for show. And that pretty much puts these
politicians on record as completely disingenuous, as deceitful people, as
officials who have no intention of actually coming to terms with their
malpractice but, instead, perpetrate a ruse upon the people they are
supposed to serve in some useful capacity.

Of course some of this is understandable. Millions of Americans and
indeed people around the globe look to government to solve their problems,
to bail them out of disasters, even though properly understood none of
that is government?s task. Governments are instituted to secure our
rights, not to cope with all the problems with which life faces us.
Natural disasters, especially, but also illnesses, misfortunes of all
kinds, are part of life and free adult men and women are supposed to
prepare for this?an elementary point any Boy Scout can teach you. However,
governments have for centuries been anointed the omnipotent security
agents of us all, a role that they are, of course, utterly incapable of

Instead of President Bush making it clear to everyone that governments
simply aren?t up to the task of solving all our problems, including those
resulting from natural calamities and the subsequent confusion and
individual catastrophes and, yes, also individual failures, he produces a
sham admission of guilt. This isn?t only a fraud but a colossal insult to
all those affected by the disaster, suggesting that had he and his team
only been alert enough, there would not have been any need for personal
initiative in the wake of the disaster?everything would have been just

I suppose Bush and other politicians simply wish to keep their jobs, so
they have to pretend that it includes being everyone?s savior, never mind
that that is plainly impossible. So they step up to the podium making an
empty gesture of taking responsibility so as to continue the ruse that,
well, they might actually have been a big help.

They could only have been a big help if for decades they would have
refrained from acclimating Americans to the phony idea that government can
bail them out of all their problems.

No comments: