Tibor R. Machan
This expression has come mean nothing at all in Washington, nothing. As
many others have pointed out, taking responsibility has to have some
consequences–if you take it for something good, the consequence would be
a reward or compliment or some such positive thing, while if you take it
for something bad, the consequence would be a loss of some sort.
But when President Obama said he takes full responsibility for the mess
with several of his nominees, especially with former House Majority
Leader, Democratic ex-Senator from North Dakota, Tom Daschle, nothing at
all appears to have happened in terms of adverse consequence for Mr.
Obama. Did he have to resign? No. Did he have to pay a fine? Nothing
happened even to the Democratic Party’s reputation which should have
suffered most in the eyes of voters. It seems to be all A-Okay! What on
earth then does it mean for President Obama to take full responsibility?
And he of course is by no means the only one who keeps using this phrase
without any seriousness at all. Many politicians do so, both Democrats and
Republicans. Every time it occurs, it prompts me to wonder whether some
kind of secret agreement has been made in Washington and perhaps
throughout the political landscape that when some malpractice occurs,
someone will stand up and say this and that’s it, nothing else will
happen. Taking responsibility will thus come to mean nothing and amount to
And the media appears to go along with all this since when President Obama
said on ABC-TV News that he takes full responsibility for the Daschle
mess, no one followed up with a question, "And what exactly will your
punishment be, given that you take full responsibility?" Or perhaps they
all believe that such misconduct by politicians will only come to be dealt
with in the afterlife so there is no need to worry about it here.
Responsibility means having been a primary cause of what one is
responsible for–say you take responsibility for a car accident or the
collapse of a building of which you were the building supervisor or a
botched up operation where you are the chief surgeon. In all such cases if
you are the responsible party and it’s discovered, usually certain serious
adverse consequences follow. Like a demotion, for example, in the
military, or the loss of a job in a civilian line of work. But if nothing
at all follows from being responsible for an adverse result, then it is
really quite pointless to say someone was responsible for it. More likely,
taking responsibility without such adverse consequence demeans the very
idea of responsibility, renders is vacuous.
What, for example, should criminal defendants, who get convicted of a
crime for which they are found to have been responsible, think of this
loose use of the concept of responsibility? Why should they feel any
regret, why should they accept their punishment for what they did? After
all, no one is punishing the President of the United States when he
proclaims to be responsible of the nomination of a tax dodger to his
President Obama made a lot of noise during the election campaign, and even
after it, about how there will be change in Washington when he gets there
and specifically about how ethics will be front and center during his
presidency. By failing to take real responsibility for having chosen
several people for his team who have tainted legal and ethical records,
his claims on this matter can be dismissed as disingenuous. His critics
will have every justification for saying that he isn’t trustworthy, he is
no better a politician than those he and his supporters have criticized in
magazines, Op Ed pieces, TV commentaries.
It would be interesting to hear former President Bush and Vice President
Chaney as they witness how the righteous team of President Obama is
faltering so early in the Obama presidency. I can just hear what Rush
Limbaugh must be making of all this!
But more important than all of that is the fact that very likely what
President Obama is experiencing is simply unavoidable in a bloated welfare
state like America has become. When the government is in the business of
wealth redistribution, handing out favors right and left, to various
special interest groups and powerful allies, how on earth can anyone
expect there to be ethically and legal spotless politicians? It is part of
such a welfare state that it breeds corruption.