Ethics Dunces: America’s Leaders…Or, If You Prefer, “Happy New Year! We’re Doomed!”

falling

UPDATE: 1/1/ 13  At the last possible moment —indeed, after the official deadline had past— a bi-partisan deal temporarily averting the worst effects of the fiscal cliff was achieved. The details of the compromise are here. But nothing I see in it would cause me to change any of the conclusions I reach below. It seems that the fiscal can was kicked down the road once again, for our craven leaders avoided doing their jobs:  dealing with the debt ceiling, reigning inexcessive government spending, and fixing a dysfunctional budget process. As the Washington Post stated on its front page today:

“The “fiscal cliff” was designed by Washington for Washington — it was intended to set up a scenario so severe that the president and Congress would, at last, have to take on the nation’s major tax and spending problems. Instead, lawmakers again found a way to sidestep many of the prickliest issues and in the process set up other, potentially more severe, showdowns in the new year.”

Additional taxes go into effect (supposedly an additional 600 billion over the next decade—a drop in the bucket), but no serious cuts in spending will be made, and the net effect is simply to delay considering responsible fiscal reforms until the next crisis. Our weak and feckless national leaders were minimally effective to the extent that they managed to avoid the worst possible result, looking as bad as possible in the process, waiting until the clock had run out. Do you find that encouraging, impressive and promising? I don’t.

It is disgusting.

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The failure of America’s elected leaders to avert the so-called “fiscal cliff,” an artificial deadline that they set for themselves the last time they proved incapable of being fiscally and legislatively responsible, is frightening and dismaying proof of their utter incompetence, irresponsibility and cowardice.

While the worst condemnation ought to fall on the President, as he is in the highest office and thus bears the most responsibility when the government fails, the easiest way to spot partisan and biased individuals from now on will be to note those who claim that one party or one branch of government is more blameworthy than the other. I don’t want to hear it. All sides and interests had a duty to the nation, and they all failed us.

Recall that all of this begins and ends with the imperative of reducing the deficit in future years and beginning to pay  down the unsustainable debt. Neither party, nor President Obama, nor the Senate (which has not passed a budget in years), nor the Republican-controlled Congress, have been honest or realistic about the crucial and pressing need to reduce spending significantly (which requires reforming so-called entitlements, as well as other painful cuts) and to increase revenue through increased tax rates and reduced tax deductions. By their irresponsible and utterly stupid bungling of this escalating crisis, they have embarrassed the nation, weakened its defense, undermined its economy, risked the welfare of hard-working and vulnerable citizens, endangered the world and placed the future of the nation in peril.

It is unforgivable. Sharing the shame in this display of complete leadership incompetence are such culprits as the national media, which allowed both parties to avoid the topic of how sequestration would be averted through the entire election cycle; government watchdog groups, which made nary a peep as two years passed with the “cliff” looming, and  Congress wasted its time passing show-bills to thrill its most radical constituency, while the President campaigned and fiddled; and the unengaged, naive and polarized public, who have sent the message that there will be no consequences of a jointly-managed fiasco that threatens to crush generations to come…their children. A great job all ’round, Americans.

We enter 2013 with the permanent decline of the great American experiment evolving from a possibility to a probability, because, arguably for the first time in its history, the United States wasn’t lucky. This time, when the nation needed visionary, talented, courageous and bold leaders to address an epic crisis, there was nobody there but cowards, hacks, pygmies, narcissists, petty partisans and amateurs.

Happy New Year.

 

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Graphic: According to Jewels

30 thoughts on “Ethics Dunces: America’s Leaders…Or, If You Prefer, “Happy New Year! We’re Doomed!”

  1. I’m sorry but I have to disagree, if only with the “pox on both houses” rhetoric. I prefer to blame individuals rather than organizations. My list of blame, in flow-of-consciousness order:

    -Foolish newbie Representatives, for not being capable of compromise or standing up to lobbyists.
    -Lobbyists themselves, such as the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth, threatening legislators with electoral reprisal if they compromise.
    -The state legislators who allowed this dynamic to grow stronger by gerrymandering districts into intraparty rather than interparty competitiveness.
    -John Beohner(sic?), who cannot control his caucus and has shown multiple times he does not have the spine to be Speaker over such a fractious party.
    -The boneheads who started all this by using the debt ceiling as a football and then making the disastrous super-committee that got us here.
    -President Obama for not having the foresight to veto the fiscal cliff when it crossed his desk
    -The boneheads who tried to use their own self-inflicted cliff as a football to score partisan points.
    -President Obama for his comments that made the House cut off the nation’s nose to spite him.

    Note, please, the lack of mention, aside from the super-committee fiasco, of the Democratic caucus. This is because, while they may not be happy with the deal, Reid and Pelosi still have enough sway to keep them on board with compromises and to keep their mouths shut so as not to injure the apparently fragile egos of their counterparts.

    • You are allowing your political viewpoint to cloud to truth of this whole current situation. Make no mistake, there is plenty of blame to go around for both parties and I will strongly agree that the fiscal foolishness that our previous President’s administration followed in prosecuting two wars without raising taxes was a pipe dream (anyone have the “guns or butter” class in high school economics?) that helped us onto the precipice. That being said, I feel i needed to comment on some of your talking points.

      Lobbyists themselves, such as the Heritage Foundation and Club for Growth, threatening legislators with electoral reprisal if they compromise.

      Generally agree with the overall feeling about lobbyists, specifically Grover Norquist and his “no tax increase pledge”. If I were an elected official, (God help us) I would hope that I could have the intestinal fortitude to acknowledge that during a crisis, you consider all options, to include tax increases and spending cuts. As much as some ideologues bemoan it, compromise is a good thing. Removing any option only serves to further entrench your opposition. That being said, we also have to acknowledge that those lobbyists represent a voting bloc, whether large or small, and they have the freedom to express their feelings and, yes lobby, officials to consider their views… provided it is does ethically… there’s the rub. Just because you don’t agree with the Heritage Foundation, doesn’t mean they are the villains in this play. Let’s not forget such “lobbyists” as the AFL-CIO that have made their voices heard on this matter.

      -The state legislators who allowed this dynamic to grow stronger by gerrymandering districts into intraparty rather than interparty competitiveness.

      Completely agree… but this argument means nothing in regards to the fiscal cliff. Plus, what is your solution? Yes, gerrymanding is slimy and divisive. However, I see no real way to solve it. Districts must be updated with the census, each party in power will work it to their advantage. Short of mandating perfectly square districts, I don’t have a solution. (I welcome someone smarter than I to help in this regard)

      -The boneheads who started all this by using the debt ceiling as a football and then making the disastrous super-committee that got us here.

      -President Obama for not having the foresight to veto the fiscal cliff when it crossed his desk
      -The boneheads who tried to use their own self-inflicted cliff as a football to score partisan points.

      Ok, these were my biggest problems with your posting. They are disingenuous and blatantly false in their assertion that the fiscal cliff is really all the fault of the Republicans and Obama simply didn’t stand up to them.

      Should we have gotten to the point where we even needed a Super-committee? Of course not. Our system has a proven method of drafting the budget outlays. The problem is that Congress has failed to pass a budget since 2009. From 2008-January 2010, the Democrats controlled both houses! Seriously, how could they not pass a budget then? Neither the House nor the Senate adopted, a budget resolution or adopt a single spending bill ‘because the Democrats were afraid of being labeled big spenders…’ As we all know, Harry Reid has refused to allow any voting on the budget resolutions passed by the House in the past few years. This is a blatant failure of their most basic duties.

      Secondly, President Obama’s administration were the ones who proposed the idea of sequestration as a measure to ensure that Republicans would solve the issue of the fiscal cliff. How would he have simply vetoed it? The fiscal cliff is coming about because of an expiration of a law that was passed prior to him even being a Senator and the draconian spending cuts to the military and other departments that his National Economic Council director thought up. The “bonehead” as you so aptly put was none other than the President!

      We can debate the politics of these issues all day, and I would love to have a longer discussion about it. However, being that this is an ethics blog, first we need to ensure that we are being intellectually honest in our assertions. Yes, the Republicans have done their share of the dirty work, but lets not forget who is conducting the train..

      • Wowee Zowee, Sarge, this is one of the most impressive tour-de-force comments anyone has ever debuted with on Ethics Alarms! What do you do for an encore? I sure hope there is one. Welcome to the fray, and thanks.

        • I guess you could say impressive. It was a tad lengthy. I could do without the moderately urbane prose. Sentence structure was occasionally clunky and the periodically haphazard use of punctuation was somewhat bothersome.

          I earlier extolled his clarity and conciseness. I’ll amend that to “he is clear and thorough“.

          But I jest. I’m glad he’s finally posting.

  2. I’m leaning more towards Chase’s take here, but I also agree with Jack’s statement “a pox on both Houses.” The behavior of the GOP “leadership” seems to be contrary to the will of it’s voting constituency and more resonant with the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Bros, et al. It denies the reality of its more moderate members giving voice and act to the more strident. The bubble of “reality” within which today’s Republican Party exists, made evident in the immediate wake of the November Election, seems to be thriving still. With this dead weight appearing more and more as the anchor it is, has been, and sadly will continue to be, the ship of state cannot move despite any of the best efforts of the President or the Democrats. Until today’s GOP untethers itself from their transnational corporate sugar daddies, we will never again see another Lincoln, TR or Eisenhower, but instead remain with the mediocre cache of McConnell, Boehner, Bachmann, Akins, Broun, Cantor, Grassley, Graham, Ryan, Jindal, Romney, Gingrich…

    • Yes, but honestly–the BEST efforts of the President? The President has made no serious effort to address the deficit or the debt, other than to insist on more taxes. And this level of tax increase doesn’t address the deficit or the debt—it will just cover more spending—wanna bet?
      This is a “blame the Republicans” argument, in the face of obvious weak and irresponsible Presidential leadership. I blame the Republicans, for all the reasons you cite. But a President with a responsible approach to cutting the deficit and closing the debt wouldn’t have so much trouble with the Republicans, either.

      • I am constantly annoyed by statements that promote the idea the President only wants to “raise taxes.” Taxes were lowered by GW Bush below rates during Eisenhower or Clinton’s Era. I understand President Obama wants to “return” these rates back to a level that is closer in line with these successful periods. If there be cuts, then let it start with the Military Industrial Complex, specifically, contractors. This is the proverbial “elephant in the room” that Democrats and Republicans seem to avoid.

      • There is plenty of evidence of moderatism in the Democratic Party (remember those “blue-dogs?”). The entire political landscape has moved so far to the right that today’s moderate Democrats would be yesterday’s staunch Republicans. It has been said that even Reagan would be considered “liberal” by today’s GOP Tea (Koch) Party Standard, so it is a bit facetious (if not fatuous) to ask, “where are the moderate Democrats?” Over the last few decades, the GOP have gotten what they wanted: an overly-funded Military, lowered taxes for the wealthy and cuts in domestic spending. Where can they go from here but more extremely in these areas? “Conserve” used to be a part of the credo of the GOP, which is what made TR one of the greatest representatives of this party. I should think this would not only include our parks and natural resources, but also the resources of the American People. Sadly, this last resource has been forsaken, diminished, ridiculed, and unfairly pidgeon-holed within the “47%” meme by a corporatocracy that has abandoned “Made in America” for profits made in other countries and banked in off-shore accounts to avoid US Taxes.

        • The entire political landscape has moved so far to the right that today’s moderate Democrats would be yesterday’s staunch Republicans. It has been said that even Reagan would be considered “liberal” by today’s GOP Tea (Koch) Party Standard, so it is a bit facetious (if not fatuous) to ask, “where are the moderate Democrats?”

          Debra Saunders asked that same question.

          Then there’s Obama’s conceit that his political positions would be considered “squarely centrist” 15 to 20 years ago.

          Two decades ago, “access” to birth control meant that no law prevented women from getting a prescription for the pill or another contraceptive. “Access” didn’t mean what it means to this administration — no insurance copayments for birth control, even for health plans funded by church-based institutions with deeply held religious objections to birth control.

          In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex partners. The House passed the bill 342-67; 118 Dems voted yes, and the Senate passed it 85-14. Biden voted yes. It was the centrist position in 1996.

          In 2008, Obama promised to repeal DOMA if elected. Rather than push for a repeal vote, however, the administration announced last year that the Department of Justice no longer would defend the law against legal challenges. A centrist should support the rule of law, not tempt the courts to topple a law passed by a strong majority in Congress.

          After moving his party to the far left, Obama expresses outrage that Reagan couldn’t win a GOP primary — even as Republicans seem poised to nominate Mitt Romney over objections from their party’s conservative base. He must think that if he keeps calling Republicans radical, the press will repeat his mantra without checking his record.

          Lastly,. you just plain lied about domestic spending; it is higher per capita than it was in 2001, let alone 1950.

        • The blue dogs were decimated in the last election by leftist challengers. I have no idea how some come to think that the political landscape is ‘far right”. We’re now in an alien, Obamanist America that Lenin would praise and that the Castro Brothers (both those in Cuba and in San Antonio) envy for its radicalism.

  3. I wrote my Congressmen that I wanted them to resist avoiding the fiscal cliff. I just wanted them to adjust the AMT (I don’t think the IRS was really ready to set up 22 million payment plans). From what I could see, I didn’t see anything disastrous in the consequences of the fiscal cliff. The measures involved would have only cut the deficit in HALF.

    We can’t keep borrowing 40% of our budget year after year. Try doing it yourself, see how long it lasts, and see what the ending is like. I am sick and tired of the President saying “measure X will save $40 billion over the next 10 years”. How much will it save THIS YEAR? (answer, $0 same as next year, and the next year, and the next year).

    I am not stupid, I realize all cuts cause problems, but you have to start somewhere, and this would have only been a start. We really need a ground-up evaluation of what we want the government to do and how much we are willing to pay for it. Like many people after the financial bubble, we need to look at what we really need. Living a Cadillac lifestyle on a Chevrolet income can’t go on forever. In 4 years, with a $24 trillion debt, we will be beyond hope.

  4. Just because you claim both sides screwed up does not mean both sides screwed up equally.

    The easiest way to spot a partisan and biased individuals from now on will be to note those who claim that claiming that one side is more blameworthy than the other shows partisan bias.

    I can’t even get into your ridiculous comment that President is to blame for an intransigent and idiotic House.

    • All this comment proves is that you don’t comprehend the institution of the Presidency, tgt, its power, and how effective Presidents behave. You’re not alone; you’re probably in the majority. It still doesn’t make it an informed decision.

      If a President is stymied by a House, especially one as confused as this one, it means he is a weak, weak leader, and so Obama is and has been since Jan. 2009. The President certainly could have gotten all of his (insufficient) tax increases and some responsible cuts through the House—he didn’t because he is either a fiscal fool, or irresponsible, or too weak to control his own party. Either way, the leader in charge can never duck accountability when the system doesn’t work. Obama has excelled in the other side of the equation, grabbing credit and boasting when something was achieved whether he was truly responsible or not—he may not now refuse to accept the tough end of that bargain. The Washington Post, which is inclined to cheer the Democrats no matter what the facts, correctly assigned equal blame in its editorial about the deal. Obama has gotten far, far more mileage out of ducking accountability and blaming everyone else while the government he is empowered to lead founders. His success probably set leadership in general back in every organization in the country, I guess you’re incline to keep allowing him to do it, which I find sad.

      It also enables him, and contributes to the problem, not that anything will make this guy an effective leader. My statement in the post is absolutely accurate: anyone who denies that both sides are so wildly over the incompetence and irresponsible lines that incremental differences aren’t worth arguing about is either partisan or deluded. Obama knew he had two years to deal with the issue, and never made a serious proposal. He was the one who agreed to the sequestration—he was the one who had to agree. He set up a problem he lacked the skills to solve. That’s prima facie incompetence.

      • Your comment again shows your desire for simplicity. It’s like how you think wins is an important stat for pitchers. Instead of judging based on process and reasonability, you judge solely on outcomes, and you pretend that the outcomes are completely controllable by a single actor.

        If a teacher attempts to teach a kid and the kid doesn’t learn, yes, the teacher failed, but that does not mean the teacher was necessarily at fault. It’s a two-way street, and fault can lie anywhere on the continuum. The teacher isn’t the only variable. Intransigence on the part of the student can shut things down to the point that nobody would overcome. Maybe the student doesn’t like that the teacher is black, or a female, or tall, or speaks with an accent. Maybe the student likes to think that 2+2 = 5. Maybe the student gets rewarded by his friends for ignoring the teacher. Whatever the motivation, if the student refuses to play fair, the student is the one to blame.

        Yes, leaders need to take responsibility for the actions of their underlings, but congress is not under the President. Congress is supposed to be on equal footing as the President. It’s inappropriate for the President to take responsibility for failures in the legislature.

        Because your underlying principles are ridiculous, it’s no wonder that you come up with such a ridiculous conclusion.

        Your second to last sentence shows your the silliness of your position clearly: “[Obama] set up a problem he lacked the skills to solve.” Congress clearly was not involved at all in creating the problem.

        • 1.Leadership is judged on outcomes, not good intentions, not style, not rhetoric. There is no such thing as a good leader whose country fails. You also don’t understand leadership. Do you think wins and losses are important stats for managers? Apparently not.

          2. A teacher is a terrible comp for a President, but the better the teacher is, the more his or her students learn. Actors can’t blame audiences if they don’t like the show. Teachers can’t blame the stupid students.

          3. “Congress is supposed to be on equal footing as the President. It’s inappropriate for the President to take responsibility for failures in the legislature.” There are only about 1000 books that explain why this isn’t true. Or read how LBJ, a skilled President, got the Civil Rights Act passed. Congress has neither equal power nor equal persuasive ability. One office with as much power in as a branch in which the power is split in half and spread among over 500 individuals obviously is the more powerful. By far.

        • 1. You just redefined leadership to mean “success”.

          Wins are an important stat for managers, but only in combination with knowledge about the team’s talent. That’s something that’s screwed up all the time. For instance, George Karl is a horrible coach, even though his teams generally have good records.

          2. I agree a teacher/student relationship is not the same as a president/congress relationship… the teacher has considerable more power than the president. My point though still applies.

          Your actor comment doesn’t work for two reasons. First, the the actor is but one piece of the performance. Blame may like on the director or writer here. The show, as a whole, would have to be used. Second, the goals are completely different. For a show, their goal is to cater to the whims of the audience. The audience doesn’t have, well, any responsibility to the show.

          I’d also say that teachers absolutely can “blame” intransigent and stupid students for being intransigent and stupid. The alternative is the ridiculous self esteem boosting we have right now.

          3. The one individual is more powerful than any other individual. By splitting the power of one side, it’s harder for that side to wield it’s power, but that doesn’t make the other side more powerful. You could argue the powers given to the President are greater the powers given to congress, but that’s a side point that doesn’t impact my argument. Even if the Presidency is more powerful than the legislature, the president is still not responsible for the legislature. They are separate branches with independence.

          Aside, your comment about LBJ is really about both LBJ and the people in congress at the time. Unless you can say that the people in congress have not changed in temperament and desires and that the pressures on them have not changed, then I don’t see the point there.

          • A leader achieves a shared and achievable goal by organizing concerted action, building consensus, and maximizing the potential of human and other resources. Good leaders do fail, of course, but a leader who fails is more likely to be a poor leader than one who succeeds. For that reason, it is usually foolish to stick with leaders who fail.

            If you really don’t see how a President has the power and influence to get cooperation from the legislature—or Board of Directors, or any other similar system,its pointless to argue with you. Your view of leadership, as I already said, inclines you to tolerate and make excuses for weak leaders. There is no question in my mind that LBJ, with his skills and leadership instincts, would have this Congress working with him to pass significant legislation dealing with the deficit and the debt. The argument that “these guys are so much worse” is a self-fulfilling prophesy. My guess would be, based on what I know about the 60’s crowd in the Senate and House, that it was a much tougher group than this one. But that’s just speculation.

            • Good leaders do fail, of course, but a leader who fails is more likely to be a poor leader than one who succeeds. For that reason, it is usually foolish to stick with leaders who fail.

              So long as you have no knowledge of context, sure. If you have knowledge of context, then getting rid of someone just because they didn’t succeed is incredibly stupid.

              If you really don’t see how a President has the power and influence to get cooperation from the legislature […], its pointless to argue with you.

              I have never claimed that the President does not have the ability to influence congress. That’s a strawman that isn’t even close to my complaint.

              Your view of leadership, as I already said, inclines you to tolerate and make excuses for weak leaders.

              My view of leadership leads to different conclusions than your view of leadership, but it doesn’t incline me to tolerate or make excuses for weak leaders. Your view of leadership inclines you to make improper decisions going forward. You intentionally ignore valid and useful information in favor of less useful information.

              The argument that “these guys are so much worse” is a self-fulfilling prophesy. My guess would be, based on what I know about the 60′s crowd in the Senate and House, that it was a much tougher group than this one. But that’s just speculation.

              So, you’re saying that the 60s legislatures were were than a congress who’s main goal was to obstruct the president? If that’s the case, they were absolutely horrible at doing the job they desired.

              There’s certainly more uncertainty when we try to use valid measures of determining if someone’s a leader, but I’d prefer a valid, less confident result to a an invalid, confident one.

        • It’s not a claim. It’s a fact. If two sides need to reach an accord to meet a deadline, by definition, both sides have screwed up if the deadline is not met or the resolution is unsatisfactory. The evidence in this particular case is obvious and unequivocal.

          • I love this. If I may put an iron in the works, which I think, elucidates more clearly a point implied in one or more previous comments: what if one side is purposefully trying to sabotage said discussions? Would this not be a reasonable assumption to make in the wake of Mitch “the single most important agenda item of the GOP is to make Obama a one-term President” McConnell?

          • I’d say that it’s fact that many sides did not reach a satisfactory agreement, but your premise that it must be the fault of all sides is false. That’s begging the question.

            Here’s an example: Two children are set to inherit money from the great uncle they never met, and the will says it’s up to the two children to determine out to distribute the money. If they don’t agree, neither gets it. Both kids have the same job, make the same money, have the same debt/savings, live in the same model house, and have identical social status. Child 1 suggests 50/50. The other child claims that the only acceptable deal is a 99.99% to .01% split. No deal is reached. In this case, it’s clearly wrong to suggest that both parties screwed up. One party suggested a fair deal, and the other party irrationally rejected it in favor of an incredibly unfair deal. Since the second child intended to be unreasonable, there was no way for the first child to get to a satisfactory resolution.

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