“The president — whoever he is— has to decide. He can't pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That's his job.” President Harry Truman's farewell address, 1953
One facet that was commonplace in America before the 1970s was accountability. It didn't matter whether you were an adult or a kid, expectations were given and if for some reason you did not uphold your end, then penalties would be handed out. That's just the way it was.
If you were a first-grader and you were caught horseplaying in class, then you probably had to sit in the corner with a dunce cap atop your cranium. When your parents were told by the teacher that their little darling was acting out, chances were good you would be confined to your room or miss supper and “The Mickey Mouse Club.”
When you were older and committed a crime, you were locked up. If you didn't abide by the agreement to pay the mortgage, then you had to make other living arrangements. Accountability mattered.
I know this may be hard to grasp, but even politicians understood the concept. After failed support of anti-communist rebels attempting to wrest control of the Cuban government from the dictator Fidel Castro, President John F. Kennedy took responsibility.
Even though the plan was initiated by the Eisenhower administration, Kennedy told the press, “There's an old saying that victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan.” He went on to say, “Further statements detailed discussions, are not to conceal responsibility because I'm the responsible officer for the government.”
President Harry Truman did not waver from fulfilling his responsibilities. So much so that he kept a placard on his desk simply stating, “The Buck Stops Here.” He accepted accountability, and when during the Korean War he decided that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was guilty of insubordination, he promptly took away his command. Truman made the decision despite the fact that MacArthur was held in high esteem by the American public.
Perhaps he should have made the decision sooner, but even President Richard Nixon resigned rather than lead the nation through the scandals and trials of Watergate that he created.
But things have changed when it comes to politicians accepting responsibility.
Just ask the family of murdered U.S. border Agent Brian Terry. For years they've demanded accountability as to who was responsible for government trafficking of firearms to Mexican drug cartels, one of which was used to kill agent Terry. President Obama loudly proclaimed that Attorney General Eric Holder knew nothing about the affair. Later it turned out he did. When things started getting messy for the administration, President Obama simply asserted executive privilege and by and large it has all been forgotten by everyone but Brian Terry's family.
Then there is the incident in Benghazi. I say incident because the Obama administration refused to call it a terror attack until much later when they figured out hiding the facts from the public was about as easy as hiding a rhinoceros behind a toothpick. But when the facts are made public, that indeed it was terrorism, did the families of the four dead Americans get an acknowledgment of responsibility? Hardly. Instead we were entertained by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton refusing to accept criticism and instead turned it back on Congress yelling, “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make?” In plain speak, who gives a rat's behind!
This now leads us to the long-anticipated rolling out of Obamacare. Despite that it was the president himself who assured us that we would not have to give up our current insurance, despite his claims that the enrollment process would be easy and that it would be affordable, it has all been just the opposite. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have been stymied in their attempts to sign up.
Changes are being forced onto insurance companies by the federal government are already resulting in wholesale changes in policies resulting in plans bearing little resemblance to old policies with the policy holder being forced to pay a staggering increase in costs.
And what does the president have to say about the chaos?
“Nobody's madder than me about the fact the website isn't working as well as it should. Which means it's going to get fixed.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius still collects a paycheck, and the president doesn't feel he has to own up to anything. If getting fixed means the same as getting to the facts of Fast and Furious, or who was responsible for the Benghazi attack, then I think we are in for a long wait.
I guess “the buck stopped here” with Old Harry, but for Old Barry it stops anywhere else but with the president.