The Blame Game

     What is outrageous about President Obama’s pledge to “kick” the posteriors of the BP officials who have offended him is not its crassness but its utter senselessness. America has long suffered from a decline of elementary decency in public discourse, and Obama’s vulgarity shatters another barrier. But it was as contrived to feign anger and seriousness as was the elder President Bush’s heeding his advisors’ plea to show that he “cares” about the economic hardship endured by those during the early 1990’s recession by actually stating, in a speech, that the point of his speech was: “Message: I Care.” Obama’s remark was just as hollow.

    But what does it actually mean that an American president will assault someone’s backside ? Will he strike them physically ? Will he take away their money ? He has already ordered BP not to pay dividends to their shareholders, presumably based on some constitutional provision that only he, adjunct professor of Con Law that he was, knows. Will he have them arrested – and for what ? BP has lost billions, and surely would rather earn money selling oil than waste money cleaning up spills, and watching millions of barrels of oil literally washed away. Will Obama invite BP executives to the White House – or other officials – and chase them around, extending his foot at their derrieres as they race around the Oval Office ? If they kick back in self-defense, can they be prosecuted for assaulting the president ? And once they have had their rear ends spanked, has the president solved the problem ?  And is the message that the president wants to send to the public and impressionable youngsters not the choice use of barnyard expressions but the efficacy of settling disputes through violence ?

      Actually, no. The message the president wants to send is one that has become increasingly grating and difficult to stomach: whatever happens, anywhere, anytime, is not his fault. His faux fury briefly changes the subject, engenders discussions of propriety and classiness (or the lack thereof), so there is a respite of several days until the question re-surfaces: what exactly has President Obama – keen environmentalist that he is – done to prevent or repair the greatest environmental catastrophe ever to strike American shores ? And the answer is: nothing.

    One can fairly ask: what can he do ? What should he have done ? But no such consideration was given to  President Bush after the New Orleans levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and inundated that city. He was held to be a heartless incompetent, and led by the shrill liberal media chorus, saw his administration effectively ruined. Bu what could Bush have done ? Primary responsibility initially was in the hands of Louisiana’s Democratic governor and New Orleans’ Democratic Mayor, who at first refused Bush’s offer of the National Guard and then could not deal with the crisis. (The Mayor, in classic political form, was later re-elected despite his ineptitude.) By coincidence, I visited New Orleans less than two months before Katrina, as another hurricane was about to strike that city (it missed), causing a mass exodus that frustrated the population and led many to stay put rather than leave again when Katrina blew in. The levees themselves were long in need of refurbishing but –politics, politics – the local politicians always preferred to spend money on other projects (likely to gain them more votes) than on reinforcing infrastructure. And that is still true today, across the country. People would rather have a new park or community center built than repair an old bridge – until the bridge collapses and they rail against the politicos for their lack of foresight.

     What is most disturbing is that, yet again, Obama obsesses on deflecting fault from himself on everything, especially the economy. It is unseemly that the administration – 18 months into its term – still blames today’s economy on President Bush when, by now, Obama’s own policies – the mad spending spree that has added trillions to the national debt – have prolonged the downturn and might be thwarting the recovery. The unpopularity of the health care reform is, similarly, the fault of others – usually the evil Republicans.

     It is not only the economy. Others are at fault for Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran’s nukes, the price of oil, the environment, the Democratic losses in Congress, and Obama’s shrinking poll numbers. I don’t recall Reagan blaming Carter for the economic disaster he inherited – he changed course and implemented policies that lowered interest rates and inflation. I don’t recall Eisenhower blaming Truman for the mess he inherited in Korea (of course, I wasn’t born yet). I don’t recall Bush blaming Clinton for letting Osama bin Laden escape, and leaving the country ill-prepared for the Arab terror of 9/11. Worse than unseemly, it evinces the exact opposite of leadership. The blame game is a flight from personal responsibility that is unbecoming and un-presidential, and that – at a certain point long past – even supporters must see through.

    People always seek scapegoats, and Jews are certainly and painfully familiar with that sad dynamic. But sometimes things just happen; accidents that could not be anticipated occur and wreak great havoc. The criminal investigation is a diversion and waste of time and energy, another play in the blame game. Sure, they may find some statute predicated on recklessness (“should have known…”) for which the government can prosecute and look like heroes when they collect fines. But if “they” should have known, should the President also have known ? Oil spills are exceedingly rare. But the devastation caused is not eased by a woeful attempt to castigate others, as if the country’s Chief Executive has little influence. He has influence, but this is a good reminder that even the president is not all-powerful.

    The president does have a bully pulpit. A president takes responsibility – the country’s leading adult. The buck stops with him. If Obama has a better idea than the BP engineers, then offer it. To date, Obama’s response to the oil rig disaster has been shrill talk, firing the head (some poor Jewish woman) of the Minerals Management Agency, making speeches, holding photo ops, looking engaged – but not doing anything. If his economic policies are prolonging unemployment, then change them. If his foreign policy has left America weaker – and less popular across the globe – than under President Bush, then re-evaluate. Shift gears. Forget Bush, Mr. President. You own these problems now. Do something, or step aside. Don’t play the race card that your acolytes keep at the top of their deck, and don’t run against Bush this November or in 2012. It won’t work, and the country cannot wait.

      Based on past experience, that plea is likely to go unmet. But, even so, Obama would do well to leave people’s posteriors where they belong, and unkicked.

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3 responses to “The Blame Game

  1. You seem to think that Obama laying blame on Bush is abnormal. However, this is a false belief. Reagan DID blame Carter ad nauseum for the recession. Some quotes from the 1982 State of the Union Address:

    “To understand the State of the Union, we must look not only at where we are and where we’re going but where we’ve been. The situation at this time last year was truly ominous.”

    “In the last six months of 1980, as an example, the money supply increased at the fastest rate in postwar history 13 percent. Inflation remained in double digits and Government spending increased at an annual rate of 17 percent. Interest rates reached a s taggering 21 1/2 percent. There were eight million unemployed.”

    “First, we must understand what’s happening at the moment to the economy. Our current problems are not the product of the recovery program that’s only just now getting under way, as some would have you believe; they are the inheritance of decades of tax and tax, and spend”

    “Now the budget deficit this year will exceed our earlier expectations. The recession did that. It lowered revenues and increased costs.”

    Actually the Republicans blamed Truman for losing China as well, which was the cause of the Korean War. So while Eisenhower did not direct blame at Truman (AFTER the election), his party certainly did.

    I disagree with other points as well, but we should get these facts clear before you go ahead and point at President Obama as being the only president to blame his predecessor, and then cite two examples that are flat out wrong.

  2. Not quite the same. Pointing out how one’s policies differ from one’s predecessors is not the same as incessantly blaming one’s predecessors for one’s current predicament. For example, Reagan’s declaration as to the effects of “tax and tax, spend and spend” was underscoring the reality that he inherited, and what he was elected to counter. So, too, Truman may have lost China – that is the historical reality that Eisenhower faced, and with which he had to deal.
    I notice you omitted the last President Bush, who never publicly blamed Clinton for the latter’s feckless war on terror that emboldened bin Laden. Nor did Bush blame his predecessors for the state of the Minnesota bridge that collapsed three years ago (Bush didn’t build that bridge !), unlike Obama, who, again, whined (and lied) that the mismanagement he inherited at the Minerals Management Agency were proximate causes of the Gulf disaster. In fact, the Agency’s director was an Obama appointee, who was forced to walk the plank to provide a convenient and temporary scapegoat.
    Nor did Nixon “blame” Kennedy or Johnson for the Vietnam mess he inherited. The President decides for America. His successor must always deal with the unfinished business of the prior president. Contrast that with Obama who… well, we know what he says about the war; takes credit when things go well (i.e., continues the Bush policies, even retaining the Secretary of Defense) and blames Bush when things go poorly.
    That is most unpresidential. You bought the business – assets and liabilities. You own them. The whining – almost two years in – is unbecoming, and reflects his management inexperience that his opponents predicted would be emblematic of his presidency.
    And even from your quotations, it appears that Reagan was too classy to ever mention “Carter” or “my predecessor” by name.

  3. The problem is that Reagan was not comparing his policies to Carter’s here. He was arguing that the recession of 1982 was Carter’s fault, calling the current problems the result of Carter’s policies. The Reagan administration was known for referring to the economy in the 80’s as the “Carter Economy.” One may argue that President Obama is also putting the issues we face today into historical context, showing that he inherited problems that he is dealing with today (I’m not arguing who is right or wrong, only that the blame is there on both sides).

    I apologize for not quoting George W. Bush at all previously, but that was only because I was only arguing the assertions in the article. Perhaps no president played the blame game as well as President Bush (again, may not be wrong, but that is not the point). Here is a sample:

    Economy:

    “When I took office, our economy was beginning a recession,” – Bush, August, 2002

    “In the last six months of the prior administration, more than 200,000 manufacturing jobs were lost. We’re turning that around,” – Bush, June 2002 (Of course, the economy lost 913,000 in the year and a half since)

    “Two-and-a-half years ago, we inherited an economy in recession,” – June 2003

    “In terms of the economy, look, I inherited a recession, I am ending on a recession.” –George W. Bush, Washington, D.C., Jan. 12, 2009

    “You know, I’m the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President.” –George W. Bush, ABC News interview, Dec. 1, 2008
    Vaccine Shortage:
    We knew that our flu vaccine manufacturing marketplace had withered from neglect for much of the 90s, and we began taking aggressive steps to reverse that environment as well as prepare for challenges such as the one we face this year with a vaccine shortage… The fact is that the flu vaccine marketplace has been withering for years, through most of the 1990s. Ten years ago, in 1994, we had five manufacturers of injectible flu vaccine; today we have two. – Tommy G. Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services. October, 2004
    Terrorism:
    They looked at our response after the hostage crisis in Iran, the bombings of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, the first World Trade Center attack, the killing of American soldiers in Somalia, the destruction of two U.S. embassies in Africa, and the attack on the USS Cole. They concluded that free societies lacked the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy… After September the 11th, 2001, we’ve taught the terrorists a very different lesson: America will not run in defeat and we will not forget our responsibilities. – Bush, August 2005
    “The simple fact of September 11 is this, we did not know an attack was coming because for nearly a decade, our government had blinded itself to its enemies.” – Ashcroft, April 2004
    Israel:
    “Well, we’ve tried summits in the past, as you may remember. It wasn’t all that long ago where a summit was called and nothing happened, and as a result we had significant intifada in the area.” – Bush, April 2002

    “The problem is, the American president, when he calls a summit, better get it right. If a summit fails, if the president … lays it out there and nothing happens, generally the … follow-up is worse than the status quo.” – Bush, April 2002 (Referring to the previous comment)

    Obama, by the way, also did not name Bush as the cause of the oil spill, but also said that
    “For too long, for a decade or more, there has been a cozy relationship between the oil companies and the federal agency that permits them to drill. It seems as if permits were too often issued based on little more than assurances of safety from the oil companies. That cannot and will not happen anymore.”

    I am not arguing that Obama is correct in blaming Bush, but my point is that nearly all politicians in recent history blame their failures on events beyond their control while taking credit for all successes regardless of their role. I believe the major issue in this country is that citizens do not fully understand that the events that take place today are mostly the outcome of decisions made long ago, and the decisions made today have more impact on what will happen in 10 years than they do on what will happen tomorrow. Presidents tend to understand this, though, and they tend to bring it up when it is convenient for them to do so (and not at other times, because the citizens don’t understand this unless constantly reminded). This goes for Democrats and Republicans; Obama does it, but so did every one of his predecessors.