Morning Pop Quiz On Ethics And Leadership: What’s Wrong With White House Spokesman Josh Earnest’s TSA Quote?

Here’s the quote, from Earnest’s  statement on behalf of the President:

“The President does continue to have confidence that the officers of the TSA do very important work that continues to protect the American people.”

Your pop quiz:

What’s wrong with it?

(It is very wrong.)

I’ll give you a minute (It took me 3 seconds) “Final Jeopardy” style:

Got it?

Here we go….

Such a ridiculous, insulting statement is a violation of the Leadership Competence 101 basic principle “Don’t be an obvious bullshitter!” Does anyone in the country in their right mind have “complete confidence in the TSA” now? It was just shown to be utterly, spectacularly, inexcusably incompetent at the single role that touches American most directly, after millions–billions?—spent on equipment and training,  after probing, prodding, humiliating and stripping millions of travelers, many of whom couldn’t possibly be a threat, after 14 years of  “perfecting” techniques and technology. The TSA could not find guns—not those other deadly weapons the signs at check points say are banned…you know, “snow globes”…and not those special plastic guns like the one crazy John Malkovich makes to shoot the President in “In the Line of Fire”—just plain old metal guns, or explosives 95% of the time! 95%!


I would think someone pulled off the street could do better than that by accident, wouldn’t you? What reason is there for the President to have “complete confidence” in, other than the opposite of what he told Josh Earnest to say? I have complete confidence that at this moment, there is no reason to trust the TSA management and its employees to do their jobs, any of it, competently, diligently and effectively, because they obviously can’t do this one. Don’t you?

This kind of thing drives me crazy, as someone who studies and teaches leadership. As a young stage director in college and community theater, I was often admonished by my producers because I did not praise a cast when they botched a scene or piece of choreography, or when a full run of a show was flawed, on the grounds that they had “done the best they can.” I would say, “Well, that was lousy, everyone. Here’s what need to be fixed.” “Why can’t you encourage them?” I was asked. “Why not say, ‘Good job, but we can do better’?” My answer, always and to this very day:

Because they didn’t do a good job. It was a rotten job. I don’t care how hard they tried. The objective isn’t to “try hard,” the objective is to perform well. They know that. They know that’s what I demand. If I say “good job” when it isn’t a good job, there are six possible results, all of them disastrous:

1. I give positive reinforcement to poor performance, thus making some think what is inexcusable is really good enough

2. They think what they did is acceptable, when it isn’t.

3. They know it was lousy, and think their leader doesn’t know the difference between good work and bad.

4. They know it was lousy, and know I know it was lousy, and now know I can’t be trusted, because I just lied to them.

5. They don’t think I have the guts to be tough when I have to.

6. It suggests that I don’t intend to fix the problem, which is terrifying to anyone who understands how bad the problem is.

As a performer, I had many directors do what my producers said I should do. I instantly lost respect for every single one of them, and permanently, as directors. Many continued to be friends, because they were kind, and loyal, and sympathetic. But being kind, and loyal, and sympathetic doesn’t make you an effective leader.

That is the answer to the quiz. It is atrocious, incompetent, foolish, careless, negligent, dangerous leadership, You get partial credit if you answered…

  • It is jaw-droppingly stupid, so stupid that it would make one question the judgment of the leader who said such a thing, if there hadn’t been so many previous reasons to do so.
  • It insults the intelligence of the American people.
  • The President negligently or intentionally just made Josh Earnest make a fool of himself by uttering such obvious BS in front of the press and the nation. He didn’t have the guts to spew this garbage himself.

I have seldom seen any leader in any setting be so relentlessly inept, for so long, and so arrogant about it. That this lesson in leadership incompetence is being played out in the White House, and for eight years, is a tragedy.

72 thoughts on “Morning Pop Quiz On Ethics And Leadership: What’s Wrong With White House Spokesman Josh Earnest’s TSA Quote?

  1. Most of my working life was for a 3-letter Corporation with awesome bureaucracy which mostly resulted in problem employees being passed around rather than addressed. I inherited one and went through the almost 2-year process of counseling, improvement, notices before eventually terminating the person. When challenged by Corporate HR, I was told to re-hire the individual, because “they came to work every day and tried hard”.
    This is the TSA in a nutshell. In fact it is the Federal Govt all over. Almost no one ever gets fired for incompetence they just move to another job where they provide the same results.
    Mr. Obama has now made such incompetence into a fine art form and institutionalized it for eternity.

  2. There’s this, too. If your play goes sour, the worst that will come of it is that you’ll have to refund their tickets. There’s no such option for a crashed airplane full of dead passengers, just because the TSA missed something, as they apparently do quite often.

      • But not to the guy who has to secure the scene and protect the human remains until the medics come for them. I’ve done that. Only once… mercifully.

    • Speaking of tickets and useless bureaucrats, I was just last weekend driving across the Mass turnpike when I noticed that they have humans handing out toll tickets at the on-ramps. Even in New joisey, they have machines to do that. Massachussets, like your friendly homeowner’s association, is the liberal utopia in a microcosm. They have idiots leaning on shovels everywhere too. All for less than 90% income tax. How do they do it?

        • It’s not. That stereotype about Mass is as silly as the belief that Texas is all cowboys. The state is, and has always been, a weird mix of conservatism and liberalism. Much of the latter comes from all the colleges. But local communities are strong, religion is strong, there is a big catholic influence and many conservative ethnic communities of Italians, Greeks, Armenians and Irish. It’s also a pretty racist state, with Boston approaching apartheid.

          Mass also has a GOP Governor again, as it often does. Scott Walker won a Senate seat just five years ago. It’s less liberal than Vermont, RI, and Conn.

          • True. I have a small plot of land in the Berkshires, and it’s pretty much a conservative enclave. Well, except for these hippies that raise llamas down the road a bit. They’re okay, though, for commies.

          • Actually, I can personally vouch for that in my own experience of Massachusetts; at least, on the basis of having been stationed there in the Army back in 1972. But that’s a long time ago, now. It’s evident that, despite minor interruptions, Massachusetts is still dominated by True Blue Boston Politics. A lot of Blue States would be respectable again if they just fenced off their largest city!

  3. I can tell you several times over the years since 911, I have inadvertently carried in my pocket the smallest size made of a Swiss Army knife and only once was it detected. The size of the knife I am referring to is 2 and a quarter inches long and scissors are very handy. However it also has a blade that is one and a half inches long. Much worse (and I am very embarrassed to admit to this) I once (only once) forgot that I was carrying a lock blade Swiss Army knife with a 3 inch blade and it was not detected by security. I think it’s safe to say my experience was not unique.
    As for Josh Earnest’s statement, I am at loss for words but I deeply agree with Jack’s frustrations with our culture of whitewashing failure with “feel good” statements and failure to call a spade a spade, a truth a truth, or just plain tell it like it is. Reality doesn’t change because someone puts a positive spin on it.

  4. Platitudes, nothing but platitudes. What a communications strategy. Incredibly insulting. Almost more so than the brazen lies the Clintons prefer.

    If these people are to be taken at their word, obviously they’re idiots.

    But how can that be? They’re Democrats. They’re always the smartest guy in the room. I forgot. Sorry.

  5. The only possible explanation for that is that the TSA is still the most competent agency in the Obama administration.

  6. Ordinarily, I am fond of George Bush, The Younger, perhaps to an excessive degree. He was not the brightest tack on the board, but he seemed (note that I say SEEMED) to have hired some advisors who knew what they were doing. Yet, after 9/11, he promoted and signed into a law The Patriot Act that I am convinced is largely unconstitutional, and where not unconstitutional, certainly unethical and promoted mistrust and suspicion. He also created “Homeland Security”, an agency which I equate (admittedly as an over-reaction) with the Gestapo and/or the KGB. After all, if you substitute “Fatherland” for “Homeland”, the mission, if not the methods, are the same.. I have, for quite some time, held that such a law, and such an agency, in the hands of a benign or benevolent administration would probably not cost us much in the way of personal liberty. And let’s face it; George just wasn’t smart enough to be the evil dictator that his detractors claimed. However, in the hands of a Barrack Obama,, who may be described as many things, but benevolent or benign are not two of them, this agency (which now incorporates the Coast Guard, as well as TSA) has become more of a political-correctness enforcement arm than a security service. Someone, somewhere, had the bright idea that creating armed security personnel, stationing them at airports and charging them with the security of our fleet of passenger airplanes, but PAYING THEM LESS THAN A CASHIER AT WAL-MART was a good idea. I can only imagine where that idea came from. Nor am I aware of any extraordinary requirements or testing to determine if these people are in any way suited for these jobs that may be in place. Quite honestly, this looks more like a private army, held in reserve for need than a security agency. Given this scandal, the NSA scandal and the IRS scandal, I would say that this administration has created a culture of incompetence and arrogance and has thus forfeited any claim to either ‘benign’ or ‘benevolent’.
    And yet, we must have the security at airports so that a repeat of 9/11 will not happen. Wonder what would happen is an actual security company were charged with this responsibility. The Secret Service (sadly, no longer part of Treasury. Guess who they work for, now) is patently not up to the job, apparently having been infected with the same culture rot as has infected Justice. However, I would bet that any number of private security outfits could handle the job. Sure like to see TSA disbanded, Homeland Security flushed down the toilet and the Patriot Act repealed, or just let it lapse.

    • Frightening nomenclature, isn’t it? Almost seems like a taunt or joke at our expense; “I’m going to make an unmistakable hat tip to two of the most prolific mass-murderers in history, and these morons will kiss our feet and wipe off the tears of gratitude with their ties”.

      • The Dark Lord (the Obama, not Tyranno-Soros) has the biggest Praetorian guard ever. Talk about narcissistic supply! Also, I just noticed “And yet, we must have the security at airports so that a repeat of 9/11 will not happen”. Did you mean to put quotation marks before “we”, and after “happen”? After all, that’s not going to help much as long as we have our open border policy.

        • Actually, I didn’t put quotes there because I wasn’t quoting anybody. Just my own abortive attempt at sarcasm. Note that 9/11 happened even as we were using metal detectors and had a modicum of screening in place. Very effective, huh? Same thing would have happened if they has tried it today, so why bother? The fact that it hasn’t happened again has absolutely nothing to do with TSA.

  7. Well, I know you weren’t directly quoting anybody; that was my way of saying that doing so as if you were quoting somebody, with the intent of conveying irony or sarcasm would be appropriate, considering the fact that it’s insane and futile to have such tight security at the airport, while leaving the border essentially wide open. Not to mention the fact that the 3-ring circuses at the airports are a total goat-f**k. On the submarine, we used to have Zulu 5 Oscars, which were submariners on shore duty working for squadron, group, or COMSUBLANT, who were assigned to try to penetrate the defenses of the in-port boats and do something creative, like try to find classified documents laying around, go into the “tunnel” (reactor compartment) or missile compartment, radio, sonar, or navcenter, take a dump in the skipper’s and XO’s head, or whatever, by any means other than violence. I’d like to see them do this at the airports, and see the results.

    • That was kind of what happened with a 95% failure rate for the TSA incompetents. They were trying to sneak phony guns and explosives onto a plane and 95% of them succeeded. Scary, huh? Points up what a waste of time TSA actually is. Given the way the border leaks, I’d say ICE is a bit of a joke, as well. Especially since doing your job with ICE apparently gets you prosecuted.

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