Friday, October 06, 2006

Responsibility Without Accountability

“The Buck Stops Here”. This is a well known phrase coined by Harry Truman and used by just about every politician since who wants to look and sound like they will take responsibility for whatever issue causes them to use the phrase. Today, J. Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States Congress uttered those words. What exactly does Mr. Hastert mean? Will we see a change in Leadership in the House? Will Mr. Hastert resign as speaker in the wake of the cover-up of the Mark Foley incident?

In a word, No.

Mr. Hastert was duly contrite during his press conference today. He indicated that he was deeply sorry this happened and that "the bottom line is we're taking responsibilty". What exactly does this mean? What is responsibility without accountability? The Republican's today have mastered the art of responsibility without accountability. George Bush: "I take responsibility for federal failures after Katrina". Donald Rumsfeld: "Utimately the responsibility rests with me" when commenting on the torture and humiliation of Iraqi prisoners. Evidently there is no consequence to taking responsibility, as evidenced by the continued tenure of the President, Secretary of State, and now presumably, the Speaker of the House.

On January 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco, a Los Angeles class nuclear submarine was steaming back to Guam submerged at a depth of about 525 feet when it collided with an undersea mountain. One seaman was killed and several injured. The navigation chart being used by the crew did not show the mountain. After a review, the Navy relieved Commander Kevin Mooney, a 19-year veteran with an exemplary service record. THAT is accountability folks. In the service, it is pretty well understood that if you are in charge, you are both responsible AND accountable.

Now we have politicians being oh so very contrite and sorry, but then showing up to work the next day as if nothing happened. Regardless of the mess Messrs. Bush, Rumsfeld and Hastert have made with their jobs there will be seemingly few consequences.

Not to ignore the Democrats in this as they've pulled some whoppers in their time also. Remember Representative James Traficant? Even after being convicted of bribery in 2002, he refused to step down from his seat when asked to by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt. Also, more recently, we have Mr. William Jefferson, he of the $90,000.00 of "cool cash" in his refigerator maintaining that he is innocent and will not step down even when there is videotape of him accepting the cash. And then whopper of all whoppers, President Bill Clinton who was "deeply sorry", but stayed put during the whole Lewinsky affair when many people had suggested he step down.

The point of this screed is that we have politicians with an acute sense of theatrical contrition and assumption fo responsibility, but then aren't honorable enough to know when the game is over and it's time to step down.

Mr. Hastert should have resigned today. It would have been the honorable thing to do. Politically, it would have been the smart thing to do as it would have given the Republicans a talking point that would have served them well during the run-up to the election. "Yes indeed, we walk the talk. We are the party of personal responsibility and sound moral values." Mr. Hastert was not planning on staying in Congress much longer anyway. He could have dramatically and gracefully fallen on his sword for the party and be seen as someone noble and forthright. By the way, it was the right thing to do from an ethical perspective. The Washington Times columnist, Tony Blankley wrote that "Although the hour is late, it is never too late to do the right thing. At this point, there is nothing left worth defending but our honor. And who knows, as an added bonus, it might also be the smart thing to do. But either way, it is the right thing."

Mr. Blankley was absolutely right. However, the geniuses in Washington won't pay heed to such good advice. The result, a continued existence of slimy, sleazy, dis-honorable politicians not only members of our Congress, but running it as well. Mr. Hastert, you could have been someone special. Now your just someone "who takes responsibility".

I'm gonna go take a Maalox now.


  1. Anonymous11:11 AM

    Hi Dennis,

    A couple of weeks later, do you still think this is important? It's a distraction. If control of Congres was not in play, no one would care. I think the real outrage is ABC News timing this to influence the election. I'm hoping that the prospect of Nancy Pelosi as Speaker will be enough to mobilize the Republican base to vote despite their ambivalence about the current Congressional leadership.


  2. Yeah, I think it still has legs. Word came out yesterday that another Page/Congressman liaison is about to drop. I don't think Pelosi can do any worse than Hastert has done. The main point to me is to get an accountable congress. Haster's is not. If Pelosi's isn't, then it won't be worse, just the same. The upside of a Pelosi led House is hearings into White House shenanigans.

  3. Anonymous9:34 PM

    Here in California, we know Nancy Pelosi. She is a ruthless hyper-partisan, way out of the mainstream in her views. Sean Hannity took it a bit far with the NAMBLA connection, but her views in this area go beyond tolerance. Ironic given the Foley matter.

  4. Anonymous9:43 PM

    Not to change the subject, but I'd like to hear your take on CNN airing the Iraqi terrorist sniper video. "Unvarnished truth", my @ss. It was outrageous, exploitative, disrespectful aid and comfort to an enemy at time of war. This has become a sophisticated enemy. The video was Psych-Ops. CNN was a tool.

  5. Anonymous said...
    Not to change the subject, but I'd like to hear your take on CNN airing the Iraqi terrorist sniper video. "Unvarnished truth", my @ss. It was outrageous, exploitative, disrespectful aid and comfort to an enemy at time of war. This has become a sophisticated enemy. The video was Psych-Ops. CNN was a tool.
    Absolutely agree. I think that in an effort to be first, scooping the rest of the new outlets, networks and cable news channels will often forget to do a "reasonableness" test. Should we go with this story? What's the impact? Can either side of the argument benefit from us putting it on the air?

    As much as people decry the media, there was at a time before the bloodlust for ratings, some serious men and women in the news business. People like Murrow, Huntley, Brinkley, Cronkite, Rather (yes, him too), Ben Bradlee, on and on, who took their craft seriously and would often hold a story because of the impact it might have. Today, the pressure for high ratings will have media outlets acting as surrogate spokespeople for a cause. Sometimes they do it unwittingley and I think this was the case with CNN. Thirst for ratings got in the way of good judgement.