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.