The term “taking responsibility” used to mean something. It used to mean more. It used to be accompanied by its twin: accountability.
No more. At least not in American public life.
President Reagan once took responsibility for security lapses leading up to the terrorist attack that killed 241 U.S. service member in Beirut in 1983. And you really got the sense that he meant it.
Problem was, few really held him responsible – and he refused to hold anyone else culpable.
A bigger problem, though, has been what has transpired since.
Leaders now know that if they’re engulfed in catastrophic failure, a forgiving public likely will accept a claim of responsibility – often without any real accountability.
It’s inside the accountability where real consequences and learning come. A claim of responsibility without accountability can be hollow – particularly if the claim isn’t completely contrite.
In the case of wayward leaders such as disgraced legislators or mayors, sometimes the grudging acknowledgement of personal responsibility – which is quite obvious in many cases, such as those involving sexual peccadilloes – clearly is a tactic to seek forgiveness before any accountability attaches.
Even in this jaded climate, though, it’s quite remarkable that there has been zero accountability for the federal government’s disastrous health-care rollout.
The president, for instance, supposedly accepts personal responsibility – but in the same breath claims not to have known what was happening in the run-up to the rollout.
And amid this debacle, in which millions have lost their health insurance, not much is being said or written about the president being so out to lunch: A Government Accountability Institute analysis of the president’s public meeting records says that from mid-2010 through November of 2013, Mr. Obama met with other Cabinet secretaries 277 times – but not once with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Not once. With the main person in charge of Mr. Obama’s signature achievement and, in his own words, his “most important initiative.”
Nor has Ms. Sebelius seen any accountability. And what about all the people under her and contracting with the government?
It’s even worse than that.
Not only has there been no accountability but, brazenly, Sebelius recently called for an investigation into the mess she has presided over.
Gall has a new face. The woman is demanding to know what went wrong with – um, her operation.
As Admiral Ackbar famously warned in the Star Wars trilogy, “It’s a trap!” Consider how Sebelius couches her call for a probe by her own inspector general:
“We need a thorough review of the contractor performance and program management structure that resulted in the flawed launch of the website.”
That thud you hear is the sound of government contractors being thrown under the bus.
Remember how the “investigation” into the Benghazi terrorist attacks got to the bottom of that scandal? Not. The investigators never even bothered to depose Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
This administration has found it nearly impossible to accept responsibility for anything.
One supposes actual accountability might then be out of the question too.