On Responsibility

Since Arnold Swartzenegger, Anthony Weiner, and pundits on the campaign trail mention responsibility in recent announcements, here is a short bit on this interesting word.

Responsibility: A particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible (answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management) (American Heritage Dictionary)

Responsibility: The quality or state of being responsible –as a moral, legal, or mental accountability, liable to be called to account as the primary cause (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Our elected officials do not seem to have a handle on neither responsible government nor governing with responsibility. Whether the inability to make a strong, good-for-the-country based decision is due to fright, lack of guts, selfish preservation, or any other inadequate reason, our elected officials are an embarrassment for their lack of responsibility and continual commitment to their party’s supply chain and their re-election. As I have stated before, politicians are first, foremost, and possibly only about their party – thus, is there any surprise at Washington’s continual failure to handle responsibly the key issues of our times?

I recently found two interesting columns focusing on responsibility. The first (from NPR) looks at Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and his recent snafu. In the other column (in USA Today), Jonah Greenburg offers no solutions, but examines the big picture. His last paragraph is loaded.

More and more, it seems as if our politicians want to be the divorced parent who only visits on weekends to do the fun stuff: Give out goodies, go to the movies, enjoy pony rides and ice cream cake, while expecting somebody else to be the tough parent who has to deal with the costs and the consequences. That is a natural human desire, particularly for politicians, a breed of professionals who have an unhealthy need to be liked. The problem is, that’s not what they’re being paid to do.

Swartzenegger and Weiner taint the work and credibility of many politicians. Nonetheless, maybe acting responsibly is expecting too much, especially in light of important topics as debt ceiling, defense, education, government spending, health care, jobs, Medicare, military engagements, revenue enhancement, and Social Security. Since we elect these officials and most seeking re-election most commonly win again, maybe we the people are getting exactly what we deserve.

17 thoughts on “On Responsibility

  1. I’m going to have to disagree with the diagnosis of “divorced dad” for the current crop of politicians. That would suggest they are giving back to their people – something truly rare in the DC arena of today. They are more like the greedy divorced kid – bouncing between parents (lobbyists), playing one off against the other to get as much out of the deal as possible, and when caught doing wrong, blaming everyone but themselves. I’m not sure HOW that disconnect between representative and represented has occurred, but it has. What we need to cure the situation, is to hold the reps accountable, and find some way of cutting off the seemingly infinite flow of lobby money. But it has to be done from the outside – in this day and age, it will be next to impossible to get Congress to cut its’ own funding. Until then, we have to ignore the hollow promises and token gifts handed out, and vote on accomplishments. And I would LOVE to see a Euro-style “no confidence” vote put into place. Maybe if we punt enough of these bums out, the rest will see the light. (Doubtful, but one can hope.)


    • John,
      Your “greedy divorced kid” analogy is a good one … combine that with the “divorced dad” analogy in the quote, much is covered. Maybe the “disconnect” that you mentioned has always been; that is, it’s our instant media world that has amplified what has always been that we never realized. In terms of the Euro “no confidence” vote system, I say stick with the system we have, but replace the people within it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  2. i think the real problem is that we’ve become a reality-tv nation. politicians should not be made into rock stars. if we want people serving seriously, we need to elect serious people and treat them seriously. the media wants to sensationalize everyone and everything. if politics was treated as a serious subject, then serious people would be in office. instead, we have pep rallies/barroom brawls instead of true town halls where people can state their concerns and suggest their solutions. people vote based on soundbytes and bumpersticker slogans. it’s no wonder, because it’s difficult to find any truth when you have to wade through 10 tons of bullshit.


    • I entirely agree with that sentiment. They don’t have constituents – they have fan clubs and I think many people take voting for office about as seriously (or maybe less seriously) than voting on American Idol.


    • Nonnie,
      “Reality-tv nation” … wow … powerful line. I’ve asked this before here, and asked it recently elsewhere – Does society mimic reality tv or does reality tv mimic society? As the two feed each other, sensationalism tops sensibility. YIKES! But your classic line was your last – “it’s difficult to find any truth when you have to wade through 10 tons of bullshit.” Gotta love it!!!! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  3. When I was ordained into ministry – (our denomination picks a pastor by majority church vote) – I was told – “Ministry is an edgy vocation. Your job is to tell people the truth, but staying hired relies solely on your popularity. Often those two facts will come into conflict, but it is still your job to tell people the truth.” I think politics is similar. The idea is that we are electing people to lead us – sometimes down paths we may need but not want, and yet to get elected the politician must remain popular.

    Bil White in Texas is a good example. Texas is running low of funds (cutting education, etc). White was doing well in the campaign until he said that if Texas was going to remain economically viable they would have to get a state tax. BAM! Rick Perry was re-elected. In politics, the truth rarely sets you free.

    However, that does not take the responsibility away from the leaders to tell the truth and do what they believe is truly best for the nation. The system is clearly flawed – but playing the flaws to your own advantage instead of fixing them remains the guilt of those who do it, and who shun the responsibility to do better.


    • Beagz,
      As you point out, campaign missteps can be costly. BUT, as we say, telling the truth is the double-edged sword. Here’s a quote I once heard: If you go to Washington to do the right thing, you won’t be re-elected. …. now that is a sad statement. Thanks for sharing your insight.


  4. I think it’s a good thing if the people are “getting what they deserve” if in fact their representatives are voting for what their constituents want. American Democracy as represented by the Constitution defends the rights of competing constituencies to make their cases through legal and peaceful means, without regard to the national, state, or municipal good. I continue to believe that the American style of representative democracy in which people have to live for periods of time with majority decisions, is better for the large diverse society in the U.S. than the European systems with their “no confidence” votes.


    • Tim,
      I’m with you on our system over the Euro system.

      So, are the representatives voting for what the constituents want? After all, the people continues to give Congress low marks, yet, the people continue to re-elect incumbents … thus practicing the “Everyone in Congress is a bum except my rep”. Thanks for commenting.


    • My only reason for pitching the “no confidence” vote is to show some disdain for BOTH parties. With our 2-party system, it’s nearly impossible to show you like NEITHER party, and getting independents elected is a very uphill battle. Even if it wouldn’t change the people in the seats, a “no confidence” vote would be a nice form of public protest.
      I did not mean to suggest support for a parliamentary system here. While we may have pinheads in power, I’ve seen the difficulty in getting a consensus on issues in both England and Germany, and I don’t believe it would work here, especially with our decades of experience with the current system. Sorry if I wasn’t clear about that.


      • John,
        You are correcto-moondo on the difficulting in getting independents elected. In my opinion, same is true for getting party moderates on either side. Therefore, we are left with fewer and fewer (if any) capable of making deals. Of course throw in the fact that if you don’t support the party line, the party will turn against you. Good points.


  5. Man, that Jonah Greenburg was spot on. I have to agree that if we re-elect them, we get what we deserve.

    Whether the inability to make a strong, good-for-the-country based decision is due to fright, lack of guts, selfish preservation, or any other inadequate reason, our elected officials are an embarrassment for their lack of responsibility and continual commitment to their party’s supply chain and their re-election.

    If they can buck the party or risk their career to do what is good for the country, that’s when I know they’re actually taking their responsibility seriously. It’s never going to happen, though. So Arnold fathering a love child or Weiner Tweeting his weiner will always be the irresponsibility people focus on.


    • Spinny,
      Interestingly, Greenburg regularly writes on the conservative side. And yes … Weiner has secured his legacy. BTW, I appreciate the political cartoons Don in Mass has been capturing about Rep Weiner. Thanks for commenting.


  6. I’m torn by these cases.

    Part of me says that one can be feckless in your personal life, yet responsible as a professional (politician or other).

    Another part says that the way you treat your marriage vows says a lot about your committment and trustworthyness in general. They can’t be compartmentalized.

    I think I find Weiner’s indiscretions so apparently numerous (just the ones we know about so far) that I don’t see how it can be compartmentalized and thought of as isolated.

    I wouldn’t argue for Arnold having resigned, but I think Weiner should.


    • Bruce,
      Interesting analogy to marriage vows regarding commitment and trustworthyness.

      Although Weiner’s action officially classify him as a buffoon, I tend to put this back in the hands of HIS constituents. Sure we see the protesting voters in his district. Of course, they probably are Republicans trying to capitalize on the situation. Compared to Charlie Rangle or John Einsen, Weiner isn’t even close (in my opinion). In other words, as politicians bark at others in the opposing camp, they tend to downplay those in their own tent. Thanks for visiting and commenting.


  7. This is good, Frank. The “divorced dad” comment was perfection. As was the reality tv comment. Just don’t know what or how to fix this cesspool of a situation.


    • Izzy,
      Writing this one was a joy, well, actually at a time of frustration. The USA Today column was timely and initiated my thoughts. Washington is a cesspool … may have always been, but given our instant media world, maybe we’re actually noticing. It’s still sad …. Thanks for visiting.


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