Rebirth of Reason


Machan's Musings - The Fraud of "Taking Responsibility"
by 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 supposedly admits responsibility for bad things that happened going to get his or her comeuppance? No. So then, what’s the point of making these announcements?

I confess to a suspicion. The point seems to be to appear conscientious, to be 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 suffering any consequences, 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, will 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 and 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 fulfilling.

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 fine.

I suppose Bush and other politicians simply wish to keep their jobs, so they have to pretend that their 'job' includes being everyone’s savior -- never mind that that is plainly impossible. So, they step up to the podium and make 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 the past few decades, they would have refrained from acclimating Americans to the phony idea that government can bail them out of all their problems.
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