With so many excuses, euphemisms, desperate justifications and outright denials flying around in print, online and over the airwaves in these fevered days of the Affordable Care Act debacle, it was inevitable that the Ethics Alarms rationalizations list would benefit. Sure enough, the Obama faithful and the Obamacare hopeful have alerted me to not one but two serviceable and popular rationalizations that I had missed.
Your refusal to be honest to the public and yourself is sad and wrong, guys, but at least you’re enriching the ethics resources on the blog.
The first of the new additions, #36, comes from a recent Obamacare column by Eugene Robinson. I was curious how Robinson, who would probably not abandon his support of the President if Mr. Obama was caught torturing kittens, would spin the current mess, and he didn’t disappoint. After somehow managing to describe relatively accurately what has transpired to date without either being critical of the President or explicitly exonerating him, Robinson wrote:
“Transforming the health-care system was never going to be easy.”
“Nobody said this would be easy” can be an appropriate morale booster when a difficult challenge is proving more challenging than expected, and when unexpected obstacles cause new and daunting problems. Following the carnage of a totally botched task, however, where there is no new problem, just the realization that those tackling it are incompetent beyond belief, and have failed in minimally meeting their duties of diligence, care, and process for a mission that they and everyone else knew was risky and hard, “Nobody said this would be easy” is just a cynical deflection of responsibility and accountability, and a dishonest one.
The issue isn’t how difficult solving the health care problem is. The issue is how lousy the plan was that was sold as a solution to this difficult problem, how it was falsely represented, and how it has been ineptly, carelessly, and unforgivably managed. Robinson’s ploy is changing the subject at its most blatant. A surgeon who is supposed to cut out a cancerous tumor but who amputates the patient’s healthy leg instead dare not comfort the patient by saying, “Now, we both knew that battling this cancer wouldn’t be easy.” Yes, but the patient certainly was justified in assuming that the doctor wouldn’t make the battle harder by being a careless nincompoop. Thus the new entry…
36. The Maladroit’s Diversion, or “Nobody said it would be easy!”
This rationalization is used to cleverly shift the responsibility for failure away from the individual or team that mishandled a task, obligation, promise or mission. By emphasizing that the goal was difficult, a fact that indeed was known to all and should have figured into the planning and the execution of the operation to accomplish it, The Maladroit’s Diversion focuses attention and criticism away from those responsible for a disaster—those whose incompetence, lack of diligence, and poor judgment were the real reason an important task was not accomplished, not the fact that it wasn’t “easy.” The rationalization strives to avoid accountability, and conveniently prepares for an ultimate failure to succeed by planting the thought: “This objective is so difficult, who can blame him/her/them for failing to do it?”
A letter writer in the Washington Post innocently flagged the next addition. Her name isn’t Pollyanna (it is Joanne Clark), but might as well be. She protested that everyone was being negative about the abysmal numbers of citizens who has succeeded in setting up accounts for new insurance programs. After all, she wrote,
“…With all the problems HealthCare.gov has had, tens of thousands of people still signed up, and that doesn’t include people who have been able to get reasonable insurance policies on the cooperating state exchanges. If we add in those hundreds of thousands who are benefiting from the expansion of Medicaid, I would have to say that things are looking pretty darn good…Can we please give the President a break?”
“Give him a break!” How did I miss that one for so long? Thanks, Joanne! Here’s the entry:
37. The Miscreant’s Mulligan or “Give him/her/them/me a break!”
The Miscreant’s Mulligan is in a large cluster of rationalizations that aim to avoid the consequences of wrongful conduct by making others feel guilty about placing responsibility squarely where it belongs, by arguing that the miscreant isn’t so bad, isn’t different from anyone else, or that he meant well. Among the rationalizations it hangs out with are 1. The Golden Rationalization, or “Everybody does it;” 6. The Biblical Rationalizations “Judge not, lest ye not be judged,” and “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” 10. The King’s Pass (of course); 12. The Saint’s Excuse, or “It’s for a good cause; ”18. The Perfection Diversion: “Everybody makes mistakes!” and last, right where it belongs, 21. The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.” Essentially what “the break” translates into is an unearned opportunity to commit the same unethical act again…or worse, without accountability or contrition in the interim. Individuals who knowingly and intentionally engage in wrongful and unethical conduct or who breach ethical duties should always experience the appropriate consequences, be it criticism or something more tangible. Unless “Give him a break!” is accompanied by a compelling reason not found on this list, the proper answer to the plea is simple, “No.”
Sources: Washington Post