President Obama: The buck stops where?

President Obama takes responsibility for nothing. Commander-in-Chief? Pathetic. Photo: Associated Press

FORT WORTH, Texas, October 31, 2012 — Harry Truman had a sign on his desk, “The buck stops here.” The meaning was clear: The president is ultimately responsible for what goes on in his administration.

That has its ups as well as its downs. The president gets credit for good news on his watch, even if he’s not the cause of it. President Obama has taken full credit for TARP, which was a George W. Bush program; the killing of bin Laden, which was actually done by Navy SEALs after a search that started under Bush; the destruction of Iranian centrifuges by Stuxnet, another project that started with Bush; and every last person hired in the last four years.

That’s fair. All presidents do it, and Obama did have the good sense to pursue some programs started under his predecessor. But he’s unwilling to take the downside. Every job lost in the last four years was Bush’s fault, including thousands in the car dealerships he ordered shut down (who says Mitt Romney is the only candidate who fires people?); that we still have a prison at Guantanamo is Bush’s fault; he doesn’t know whose fault the cluster-(expletive) in Benghazi was, but it wasn’t his (he accepts “responsibility,” but no blame). He only wants to know the truth. 

A U.S. Navy ship’s captain is responsible for everything that happens to his vessel. Captains have lost their commands and careers because a subordinate messed up and the ship hit another vessel. It doesn’t matter that the captain was attending to necessary duties elsewhere and couldn’t personally supervise on the bridge; he has absolute authority on his ship, and so takes absolute responsibility.

The Commander-in-Chief does not. The deaths of the men in Benghazi were “not optimal,” he notes with dry humor, but he feels no responsibility for the fact that his subordinates, members of his administration, refused to send more security when it was requested (and in fact ordered the ambassador not to request it); refused to let nearby Nave SEALs intervene to help the diplomats under attack; refused to send troops or planes from nearby bases in Italy (just an hour away; the attack went on for seven hours); did nothing but watch and then spent two weeks dragging the YouTube video red herring all across the media and political landscape.

No one was responsible for Operation Fast and Furious, no one was responsible for the dead border agent. No one is responsible for civilians killed in drone strikes on people selected from the president’s own, personal “kill list.” When an American 16-year-old was killed in one such strike, the White House press secretary suggested snidely that some kids choose their parents unwisely. 

Foreign donations to his campaign? The president knows nothing, nothing. 

A man who won’t take responsibility should have no authority. Obama has spent four years denying responsibility for anything and passing the buck to Congress, Rush Limbaugh, and always to George W. Bush. His sycophants in the press attribute his bloodless attitude towards the human damage under his watch to his “cerebral” and “intellectual” approach and applaud his cool, careful detachment.

That undoubtedly explains the form letters he sends to the families of dead soldiers. Any personal attention might divert his steely attention from serious matters before him: how to improve his golf swing, how to squeeze yet another fundraiser into his schedule (he’s held more than every other president in the last forty years - combined), how to find people more competent than the White House staff to plan lavish parties (and the most expensive state dinners in history). 

Barack Obama seems to be a good father. He may be a compassionate man. But he’s a pathetic commander-in-chief. He hasn’t learned the meaning of “responsibility,” and he shows no grasp of the nature of authority. He mistakes extra-legal fiat for leadership. He mistakes taxes for civic-minded charitable activity. He intrudes into local legal matters as if he were just any concerned citizen, the world’s most powerful dilettante. 

His continued popularity is no surprise. We live in a country where personal responsibility is outdated. We consider private activity always inferior to public solutions, we want to be perfectly protected from the negative outcomes of all our actions. We want to be loved and protected and cared for like children. Obama is the perfect reflection of our zero-responsibility society. 

There’s no doubt about it: If we reelect Barack Obama, we get the president we deserve. 


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Jim Picht

James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics and Russian at the Louisiana Scholars' College in Natchitoches, La. After earning his doctorate in economics, he spent several years working in Moscow and the new independent states of the former Soviet Union for the U.S. government, the Asian Development Bank, and as a private contractor. He returned to Ukraine recently to teach principles of constitutional law and criminal procedure at several Ukrainian law schools for a USAID legal development project. He has been writing at the Communities since 2009.

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