Another prescient post from the past

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been trolling through my old posts with the idea of putting out another Kindle book, and I’m impressed by the number of my past posts that either predicted today’s political problems or explain them.  As always, I’m not boasting about my exceptional perspicacity.  All of us knew what was going on.  It’s simply that I happen to have written these things down.

My latest foray in the past yielded a post from a year-and-a-half ago about the way a Democrat-run federal government ensures that no one ever takes responsibility for anything.  My starting point was the fact that, after dining at a breakfast spot with two service men, Obama left without paying the bill.  I didn’t fault him for that.  Rather, I faulted his minions, none of whom stepped up and took responsibility for that commonplace inevitability.  It was in that context that I wrote:

The Democrat desire to avoid personal responsibility goes all the way up the ladder to the top man, the guy in the White House.  Obama avoids personal responsibility like the plague and is beginning to get mocked for that, even by his own party.  But why are his compadres surprised?  The entire Democrat ethos is based upon eating the food and having someone else pay the bill — and then expressing surprise when the bill goes unpaid.

To skip to another scenario (this is the scenario equivalent of mixed metaphors), think back to the last CPR class you took.  I always forget the number of pumps and breaths (and understand that they’ve now simplified it down to a Bee Gees song).  What I do remember, though, is that the one thing you should never do is holler out a generic “Call 911!”  This makes everyone responsible for making that call and experience has shown that if everyone is responsible then no one is responsible.  Instead, you have to tag someone.  “YOU, the guy in the black shirt, call 911.”

The same principle of failing to invest specific people with responsibility — and thereby creating a responsibility vacuum — holds true when the government sucks responsibility away from people and distributes it into its vast machinery.  Suddenly, individuals aren’t responsible — and you can’t find the clerk with the cash when you need him.

My sister once worked with a secretary who felt put upon.  No matter what one asked her to do, she came back with a single answer:  “That’s not my job, man.”  Since she was working for a private company, she was fired as soon as the company felt that it had protected itself against a potential wrongful discharge lawsuit.  In the federal world, this same gal would not only have lifetime employment, she’d be teaching taxpayer-funded seminars on avoiding direct responsibility for anything.

I wrote those words long before the Obamacare fiasco revealed itself in its full glory to the American people — and long before we learned that part of the problem was that no one was in charge.  Obama didn’t talk to Sebelius, Sebelius didn’t talk to her people, and the people tasked with the work were pushed aside when they tried to talk to anyone.  For each of them, when it came to taking responsibility, the controlling ethos was “That’s not my job, man!”

The forgotten lunch tab and what it says about personal responsibility in the age of Big Government

ABC reports that President Obama treated two service men and two local barbers to a high-fat Father’s Day lunch (high-fat, at least, for Obama), and then left without paying the tab:

Amid the bustle of President Obama’s surprise stop for barbecue Wednesday the White House apparently overlooked one key detail: the bill.

Celebrating Father’s Day early, the president had lunch with two service members and two local barbers at Kenny’s BBQ on Capitol Hill.

As the group chatted about fatherhood, the president enjoyed a steaming plate of pork ribs with hot sauce, collard greens, red beans and rice and cornbread.

The bill for the president and his four guests was $55.58, but was left unpaid at the point of sale, according to pool reports.

The White House corrected the oversight and settled up the tab by the end of the business day.

I don’t for one minute blame Obama for forgetting to pay the tab.  That’s not his job.  But it’s apparent that in the swirl of government employees constantly circling around him, no one felt that it was his or her responsibility.  Isn’t that whole scenario a perfect paradigm for government?  Obama, the service men, and the barbers were all happily dining on someone else’s tab — and then the person who was supposed to pay didn’t.

(It’s ironic, really, that this happened within a couple of days of Obama’s sudden obsession with paying the tab at a restaurant:

“I love listening to these guys give us lectures about debt and deficits. I inherited a trillion dollar deficit!” he said. Obama compared Republicans to a person who orders a steak dinner and martini and then, “just as you’re sitting down, they leave, and accuse you of running up the tab.”

I mean, isn’t this better than a film script?  Within a week of accusing the opposing political party of hypothetically stiffing the American people at a restaurant, Obama actually stiffs an American restaurant owner.)

Although not directly on point, to the extent we’re talking about personal responsibility, this whole scenario is analogous to Hillary Clinton’s “It takes a village to raise a child” shtick from the 1990s.  The expression is true, of course, if there’s a real village.  I live in a very tight neighborhood where I know all the kids and all the parents, and they all know each other.  If a kid does something wrong — drinking, drugs, etc. — he can be assured that his parents will know within a day or two.  The children know that every parent in the neighborhood is watching out for them.  The kids also watch out for each other.  We are a genuine, organically grown community, based upon proximity, shared values, and social connections.  We all look out for each other, because we all know each other, and we know what matters to the other families.

Hillary, though, wasn’t envisioning a network of small communities that take care of their own.  That world view smacks of conservative thinking.  Instead, she pretended that an impersonal, distant government was precisely equivalent to that village.  Her promise was that, if we paid enough in taxes to create the Nanny state, we would get the “village” without the effort of looking after our own. Almost daily stories out of England about horribly abused children who slipped through the cracked network of social services tells us just how well that “government village” works.

The Democrat desire to avoid personal responsibility goes all the way up the ladder to the top man, the guy in the White House.  Obama avoids personal responsibility like the plague and is beginning to get mocked for that, even by his own party.  But why are his compadres surprised?  The entire Democrat ethos is based upon eating the food and having someone else pay the bill — and then expressing surprise when the bill goes unpaid.

To skip to another scenario (this is the scenario equivalent of mixed metaphors), think back to the last CPR class you took.  I always forget the number of pumps and breaths (and understand that they’ve now simplified it down to a Bee Gees song).  What I do remember, though, is that the one thing you should never do is holler out a generic “Call 911!”  This makes everyone responsible for making that call and experience has shown that if everyone is responsible then no one is responsible.  Instead, you have to tag someone.  “YOU, the guy in the black shirt, call 911.”

The same principle of failing to invest specific people with responsibility — and thereby creating a responsibility vacuum — holds true when the government sucks responsibility away from people and distributes it into its vast machinery.  Suddenly, individuals aren’t responsible — and you can’t find the clerk with the cash when you need him.

My sister once worked with a secretary who felt put upon.  No matter what one asked her to do, she came back with a single answer:  “That’s not my job, man.”  Since she was working for a private company, she was fired as soon as the company felt that it had protected itself against a potential wrongful discharge lawsuit.  In the federal world, this same gal would not only have lifetime employment, she’d be teaching taxpayer-funded seminars on avoiding direct responsibility for anything.

It starts at the bottom, with Barack Obama’s minions in the restaurant saying “That’s not my job, man.”  And it ends at the top with Barack Obama, speaking of the American economy and saying, “Bush started it.  That’s not my job, man.”

Americans hunger to take on the job of creating work and wealth.  Isn’t it time to let them?

The narcissistic mindset of today’s world

For almost a thousand years, Catholics around the world, as part of their mass, have taken responsibility before God for their own failings:

Confíteor Deo omnipoténti et vobis, fratres,
quia peccávi nimis cogitatióne, verbo, ópere et omissióne:
mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa.
Ideo precor beátam Maríam semper Vírginem,
omnes Angelos et Sanctos, et vos, fratres,
oráre pro me ad Dóminum Deum nostrum.

Or, as translated into English:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my own fault,
through my own most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin,
all the Angels and Saints,
and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

I’ve always found extraordinarily beautiful the single phrase italicized above:  “mea culpa, mea culpa, mea máxima culpa,” which I translate in my mind as “I have sinned, I have sinned, I have grievously sinned.”  The Latin has a lovely rhythm, and I like the murmuring “m” that is repeatedly cut off by the hard “c” and “p.”

I also like the sentiment expressed.  It’s not that I believe that most of us spend our lives perpetually sinning, especially carrying out grievous sins on a routine basis.  Nevertheless, what appeals to me about the phrase the way it constantly reminds us to be humble.  Making that statement — I have sinned, please forgive me — acknowledges that we cannot control all things and that, with the best will in the world, we make mistakes, sometimes serious, sometimes not so serious.  And when we err, we owe someone an apology.  If there’s no one else to whom we can apologize, there is always God before whom we can make amends.  It is the ultimate statement of personal responsibility and, by extension, individual will.  We act, and we take responsibility for our acts, even if they don’t always turn out so well.

One aspect of moral decline is when people abandon the principles behind this confession and refuse to take responsibility for their own actions.  Broadway songwriter Stephen Sondheim, whose writing and thinking generally doesn’t appeal to me, has a surprisingly firm grasp on this problem. Back in the 1950s, in West Side Story, the Jets cheerfully explain that society at large forced them to become hoods.  They are not responsible for what they do, leaving no room for remorse or redemption:

Almost thirty years later, Sondheim, in Into the Woods, wrote a song, “Your fault,” that makes the same point.  As with “Officer Krupke,” it’s a remarkably astute summing up of a secular culture that has abandoned personal responsibility:

Both Sondheim songs are narcissism in action.  Narcissists simply cannot take responsibility for their own conduct.  They cannot apologize; they can only blame:

Some people have more trouble apologizing than others.  As the gifted psychoanalyst Dr. Nancy McWilliams has written, narcissists have particular difficulty expressing remorse because to them it implies fallibility and personal error, admissions that are psychologically intolerable to such people.

Narcissists are not pleasant people with whom to deal.  They are responsible only for successes, and are quick to blame anyone but themselves for their failures.  If you’re the one standing closest to a narcissist when something bad happens, you can be assured that, when the narcissist is done, he will have himself, everyone else, and possibly you too convinced that it’s all “your fault.”

Bad as this is at an individual level, what do you do when an entire culture goes narcissist, making for a collective abdication of responsibility?  A friend asked me this question (well, he didn’t quite ask that question, but he sort of did) in connection with the fatal football riots in Egypt.  He pointed out that, now that the dust has settled, the rioters are blaming the military police.  Given the routinely thuggish practice of Egypt’s military police, and given the dislocation that generally characterizes Egypt now, the police are certainly a convenient scapegoat.  Occam’s razor, however, dictates that one look a little closer to home:  the two teams have a long history of thuggish behavior towards each other, and it is just as likely, if not more likely, that the rioters used Egypt’s chaos as a cover for bringing to the boil a long simmering rivalry.

Where does this behavior stop?  Interestingly enough, the Obama administration is giving us an easy answer.  It stops when all blame rests in two places:  Israel and the American government (carving out the Obama years as a blameless exception, of course).  The latest manifestation of this new version of the confession (“America has sinned, she has sinned, she has grievously sinned”) is the Obama administration’s decision to block the Iran Sanctions Bill, which officially holds Iran responsible for the Marine barracks bombing in Beirut, back in 1983.  The bill is part of a package of legislation that attempts to hamstring Iran financially as a way of preventing the regime from going nuclear and, perhaps, allowing dissidents to bring the regime down from within.

The Obama administration’s ostensible reason for blocking the bill is that it just needs a little more time to talk to Iran because this time, more than three years after Obama was sworn in, Obama and his team are sure that talks will make a different.  Really.  This time.  Oh, yes, this time the president’s gift of gab will work, and Obama is so certain of this, he doesn’t want any sticks near as he waves his oratorical carrots before the Iranians.

Marine families are devastated.  They understand that it’s not just pragmatic negotiation requirements that drive the administration’s stand (especially because negotiation has been less than useful to date).  A principled administration, one that truly believed in America, could never take this stand.  What makes it easy for the Obama administration is that, in any dealings between America and another nation, if something goes wrong, it’s all America’s fault.  It’s therefore no skin off the administration’s back to ignore the facts.

Obama is just the most visible and powerful manifestation of this mindset.  James Taranto caught Abe Rosenthal, at the New York Times making the same call (bolded emphasis mine):

Hey, Remember Pearl Harbor?
Reading the recently launched blog of New York Times editorial page editor Andrew Rosenthal has become one of this columnist’s guilty pleasures. Here he is inveighing against the latest Republican outrage, or something:

Sen. Mike Lee, the Utah Republican, tweeted the following yesterday afternoon: “Jan. 4, 2012, may well be a day that will live on in infamy, as a day the Congress ceded one of its rightful powers to the executive.”

This was alarming. What did the President do on January 4 that would warrant a comparison to Pearl Harbor? Did the president order a drone strike that day, maybe? Or sign a bill authorizing indefinite detention for suspected terrorists? Actually, those things happened on other dates without anyone–to my knowledge–invoking Japan’s attack on a Hawaiian naval base.

Lee was referring to the president’s “recess” appointments at a time when the Senate was not actually in recess, but that’s not what makes Rosenthal’s post so perversely amusing.

First of all, while we’ll concede that Lee’s words were an echo of Franklin D. Roosevelt (who actually said “a date which will live in infamy”), does that really amount to “a comparison to Pearl Harbor”? The opening line of Pat Benatar’s 1981 song “Promises in the Dark” is, “Never again, isn’t that what you said?” Would Rosenthal say Benatar was comparing her romantic disappointments to the Holocaust? (Though come to think of it, it sounds as though Benatar has had a few dates that live in infamy.)

Second and even more bizarre, look at the examples Rosenthal cites of events that he thinks are more comparable to Pearl Harbor: the killing and detention of America’s enemies. A more apt comparison would be to a Pearl Harbor-like strike by the Allies against the Axis. Remember the Battle of Taranto!

I think I’ve beaten this horse to death.  I’ve certainly covered all the items in my mental checklist of ideas for this post:  Past recognition of personal responsibility? Abandonment of that doctrine? America as the narcissists’ ultimate scapegoat, at home and abroad?  Yup.  All there.

America culpa, America culpa, America maxima culpa.

 

“My son is dead. I want someone to pay for this.”

The title of this post is the cri de coeur of a father whose son died in his arms.  We can all sympathize with how he feels — except that it gets a little more complicated when you read the story about how his son died.  You see his son, armed with a gun, and an accomplice, armed with a knife, tried to rob a 21 year old man at a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) station, a robbery accompanied by threats to kill the victim.  The victim fought back and, in the melee, managed to inflict a fatal stab wound on the assailant holding the gun:

A 23-year-old visitor from the East Coast had just gotten money from an ATM when he told his friend on a cell phone that he had a bad feeling about two men approaching him at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland.

His worst fears were realized when one suspect, Victor Veliz, 18, held a folding knife with a 5-inch blade to his neck and the other, Christopher Gonzalez, 18, threatened to shoot him Thursday night, authorities said.

In a blind panic, he lashed out at his attackers, grabbing the knife from one of them and punching the other as his friend listened in horror on the phone.

Without realizing it, authorities say, the man stabbed Gonzalez in the chest. Gonzalez stumbled to his family’s home around the corner, collapsed into his father’s arms and died.

The victim immediately turned himself in and is not being charged.  He was upset to learn that, in defending himself, he killed a man.  The dead man’s father is upset too, but not that his own son’s wayward conduct brought about his death.  Dad is upset that the victim dared defend himself:

Javier Gonzalez sobbed at the loss of his son, who worked with him in his roofing business and at Oakland Raiders games.

“I’m angry at both of them,” he said of the robbery victim and Veliz. “They took my son away from me. He was a hard-working kid.”

He added, “My son is dead. I want somebody to pay for this.”

Dad gets something of a pass here, because I can’t imagine the horror of having my son die in my arms.  Nevertheless, I still find it unnerving, at a deep cultural level — a level about personal responsibility — to hear a man laud as a hard-working kid the son who tried to rob a man at gun and knife point, while blaming the real victim for defending himself against this murderous assault.  I can understand blaming the dead guy’s compatriot (you know, “his friends led him down the wrong path”), but to blame an innocent victim of a felonious crime hacks me off.