The Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List Welcomes The Know-It-All’s Dodge, Or “I Knew This Would Happen”


The Know-It-All’s Dodge has been hanging around waiting for me to add it to the Rationalizations List for a long time. I should have added it when President Barack Obama exploded my head with this exchange, in 2015, regarding his pathetic and disastrous handling of the Syrian civil war.

In an interview with CBS’s Steve Kroft, who had earlier in Obama’s administration stated outright that his questions to the President would not be confrontational ones, there was this:

KROFT: You have been talking a lot about the moderate opposition in Syria. It seems very hard to identify. And you talked about the frustrations of trying to find some and train them. You had a half-a-billion dollars from congress to train and equip 5,000, and at the end, according to the commander of CENTCOM, you got 50 people, most of whom are, are dead or deserted. He said you’ve got four or five left.

OBAMA: Steve, this is why I’ve been skeptical from the get-go about the notion that we were going to effectively create this proxy army inside of Syria.


Aghast, I wrote,

Wait—what??? This was Obama’s policy! He was brushing off a massive and expensive failure by saying he never really believed in it in the first place! Can anyone point me to any previous President or competent leader of any kind (Robert E. Lee: “Yeah, I always thought that Pickett’s Charge thing was a bad idea.” Roberto Goizueta: “I wasn’t surprised that New Coke flopped…I hated the stuff, myself.”) who would so brazenly deny accountability for his own fiasco?

If you want to know why Congress, which Obama persuaded to spend a half-billion dollars for a policy Obama now says he didn’t think would work, doesn’t trust this President, here is your answer. Nobody can trust a leader like this.

I really should call the new addition “Obama’s Dodge,” but if there was ever a President Know-it-all,” it was Barack. [ I’m thinking about writing an essay examining the question of whether a leader who is an unethical asshole but who poses as a respectable leader, fooling much of the public, is better or worse for a country than a leader who is completely transparent and unapologetic about his asshole tendencies. Any resemblance to individuals alive or dead will be completely unintended, of course. ]

There has been a faint but distinct echo of this rationalization every time an Ethics Alarms commenter responds to a post about some new unethical outrage with “This comes as no surprise.” The thrust of The Know-It-All’s Dodge is that if one anticipated a bad result resulting from one’s own actions or decision, then one should be exonerated from blame, or that at least the blame should be moderated because it wasn’t a mistake, or something. The logic makes no sense, except to narcissists and idiots. (Obama is a narcissist.) If you KNEW something you were responsible for would have bad consequences, why did you allow it to occur? Resorting to this rationalization is damning, not mitigating.

I’m going to place “The Know-It-All’s Dodge” on the List in the cluster under #36. Victim Blindness, or “They/He/She/ You should have seen it coming.” ( “Victim Blindness attempts to shift responsibility for wrongdoing to the victims of it, who, the theory goes, should have known that their actions would inspire the conduct that caused them harm, and thus they should have either avoided doing what sparked the unethical response, or by not doing so waived their right to object to it.”)

I hope you’re taking notes…

The old 36C, Donald’s Dodge, or “I never said I was perfect!” ( “…a really vile rationalization, one of the worst on the list. It posits the theory that as long as someone never says or suggests that he is above a particular kind of misconduct, he shouldn’t be judged harshly for engaging in it.”) will be moved under #19, The Perfection Diversion, or “Nobody’s Perfect!,” where it should have been in the first place.

21 thoughts on “The Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List Welcomes The Know-It-All’s Dodge, Or “I Knew This Would Happen”

  1. I wonder if you’re missing something here Jack. While I can’t speak about the details surrounding Lee and Obama failures only knowing about the event themselves, I have actually learned quite a bit about New Coke.

    New Coke was the product of a decade long fight in the cola wars with Pepsi. In the late 70s early 80s Pepsi started to gain traction in the war. Coke was still dominating, but one thing that was hurting them was Pepsi’s blind taste test challenge. Repeatedly, they found people just liked the taste of Pepsi better. Coke did their own challenge (off camera) and found to their astonishment people liked the taste of Pepsi better. Thus began a massive taste testing experience that led what is today called “New Coke.”

    This was no simple feat. Coke pulled out all the stops to get ahead having more than 200,000 people test the product. Most of those thought it was a superior product to Pepsi. 53% of those said they preferred it over the original coke. What they didn’t count on was nostalgia.

    The failure of New Coke wasn’t that it taste bad, the failure of New Coke was it was a symbol of change. Grassroots organizations were created by people who mostly talked about how it was taking something away from them many who would admit they either did like the taste of New Coke or never tried it in the first place. As many as 20,000 calls came in the first few days of the announcement. It was highly unlikely most of them had even tasted New Coke. This number would reach 400,000 by the end of the campaign.

    Coke did make attempts to get the brand out there, but I think they realized quickly that it was a losing battle. Within three months they pulled it and introduced Coke Classic. This ended up working out for them because Nostalgia. The boost in sales pretty much gave Coke the competitive edge over Pepsi that it still holds today (by about $50 billion). However this is just moral luck. Their profits could have tanked.

    Sure the researchers could have done more. One of the problems with quantitative research is it doesn’t show anything outside the box. For certain you can show people like something but it isn’t going to tell you how they might feel about it. Coke should have engaged in some qualitative research. It would have gone a long way to ask some of those people testing how they would feel if Coke was completely replaced by New Coke.

    Personally, I think were New Coke failure was the removal of Coke from the market. If they would have just left Coke on the shelves and introduced New Coke (maybe as something with a different name) like they did with Diet Coke in 1982 I highly doubt people would have cared so much and it would still be on the shelves as an alternative to Pepsi (As I wrote this last line it occurred to me that nostalgia could have the opposite effect. I just checked and New Coke was reintroduced in 2019 because of the popularity of Stranger Things on Netflix along with a rise in Eggo Waffle sales).

    Anyway, this is just a round-about way of saying just because a situation didn’t turn out the way it was planned, doesn’t mean it was a bad decision. Like all rationalizations, people like Roberto Goizueta and Obama are just ducking responsibility.

    • I remember New Coke well. It was a terrible decision, and obviously so. How hard is it to figure out that if there are customers that like you product and those who don’t, you don’t eliminate what they like, and cater to the people who didn’t like it. I like Coke because of its unique taste. I thought New Coke was swill. If I wanted something that tasted like Pepsi, I would have bought Pepsi.

      At the time it ditched Coke for New Coke, Coke was outselling Pepsi. Let me repeat that: At the time it ditched Coke for New Coke, Coke was outselling Pepsi. That was unprecedented, because it was incompetent. Peopel weren’t mad because of loyalty! If Coke and Pepsi had traded tastes like baseball players, everyone who drank Coke would have switched to Pepsi.

      this is just a round-about way of saying just because a situation didn’t turn out the way it was planned, doesn’t mean it was a bad decision.

      Of course: that’s a theme here, the foolishness of Consequentialism. But the Coke move is not an example of that, not at all. Coke had one of the most successful consumer brands in US history, and was still on top when it decided to eliminate its core product! Everyone, almost literally everyone, pronounced the move crazy, and it was crazy. What happened was as everyone predicted, and no market research was needed. Common sense was enough. A new, minority CEO wanted his way, and the staff of yes-men found a way to justify it. That’s a common problem in management.

      • I agree they should have never pulled Coke. However, I believe the reason they were outselling was because of the deal they had in the restaurants. Pepsi was doing significantly better on the shelves.

        • I was born into a family of loyal Pepsi drinkers. It went with everything. We toasted each other with it. A swig of it was a wake-up zinger for me and my father, although swigging was frowned upon by the lady of the house. Dad finally labeled a bottle for himself and me to share. [Sidebar: Pepsi Cola was the first product I used that pushed a “Diet” version, something that still annoys me. There is no such thing as a “diet” this or that; it’s not a “version” of anything. Whatever it is has an entirely different flavor and aftertaste than whatever it is supposed to be copying, Most of all, it does not offer the same satisfaction, particularly when “free” of any major ingredient. However, I speculate that all “diet” products do have a similar flavor to each other, one specifically designed to destroy taste buds.] As to sodapop, as my friend from Alabama used to say, It was Pepsi or nothing … until the summer marooned in the high, hot plains, a place with only CocaCola, a nickel a bottle, no change. It was iced to a tooth-freezing temperature in a huge rusty old bin the size of a restaurant refrigerator on its side (which it might well have been ) at a gas station about a mile and a half from where we were staying. You had to pop the top on the side of the cooler and stand around til you’d emptied the bottle, gulping and gasping as your tonsils froze, and return it on the spot …. We’d burp all the way back to the tents. When I got home at the end of the summer, the Pepsi tasted cloying, and it’s been Coke-and-a-burp ever since.

  2. More succinctly stated in this exchange from Yes, Prime Minister:

    Bernard Woolley : What if the Prime Minister insists we help them?
    Sir Humphrey Appleby : Then we follow the four-stage strategy.
    Bernard Woolley : What’s that?
    Sir Richard Wharton : Standard Foreign Office response in a time of crisis.
    Sir Richard Wharton : In stage one we say nothing is going to happen.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby : Stage two, we say something may be about to happen, but we should do nothing about it.
    Sir Richard Wharton : In stage three, we say that maybe we should do something about it, but there’s nothing we *can* do.
    Sir Humphrey Appleby : Stage four, we say maybe there was something we could have done, but it’s too late now.

    • Two of the UK’s all-time finest series (both now new-polished and streaming on Britbox). In the same vein as your quote comes my favorite:

  3. I think we need more assholes in government. I was recently reminded of the $100 million that went missing from our state DHS. Some genius put an ‘asshole’ in charge of fixing the problem. The auditors found that there was no trace of the money. There were no records of how, when, or who withdrew or spent the money, it was just gone. The ‘asshole’ in charge found 1,200 DHS employees who did not interact with clients, did not work on cases, and did not do any essential work for the agency. He then fired those 1,200 people for a savings of $100 million/year. He fired $100 million/year worth of government workers without affecting the function of the agency. He also streamlined things by making payments quarterly instead of monthly. The legislators were furious with him for doing such a thing. He, in return, was incredibly rude and condescending towards them (hence, the ‘asshole’ label). He was fired, the people rehired. The money ‘magically’ reappeared in an illegal slush fund and almost all traces of the incident were scrubbed from the internet. Only references remain.

    Do note that this crisis came 6 years after the public abolished DHS. Despite the election results, the State decided the ballot item REALLY just said that the DHS head needed to be fired. You might wonder why a state would want to abolish their Department of Human, but look at the paragraph above and you will wonder no longer. That also doesn’t factor in the number of children who died in 2010-2012 with numerous abuse complaints each.,_State_Question_765_(2012)

    Now, imagine if we turned this ‘asshole’ lose on ALL of our state agencies? Sure, he is a jerk, but he isn’t there to make friends. He is there to do a job. We need a lot more of these people. We are about to send out $1400 checks to 156 million people at a cost of $465 billion. Can anyone tell me what is wrong with the previous sentence?

  4. To my mind you are being unfair and somewhat mean, re Obama. There was some small chance that a group of ‘moderates’ could take over in Syria, but it was always rather unlikely. At the time there were a number of shady Syrians in Washington claiming they were ready to lead a moderate revolution if only they could get US backing, ie money. Obama’s options all looked pretty dismal. Sometimes you have to try something, even though the least worst path is still likely to fail. Just think, if he had never tried ….(?)

    The whole ‘Arab Spring’ was a tragedy, and the ‘West’ bears some responsibility for raising unrealistic expectations.

    Jack, I suggest you shouldn’t be too hard on the “Know it all dodge”. You have hinted regularly at a mild version every time you’ve had to comment on another indefensible action or comment by President Trump. I know, I know, you always said he was totally unsuitable!

    • I disagree. Jack justifiedly criticizes Obama’s Syria policy. If, as President, he didn’t believe in the policy then he had a duty not to pursue it. The Syrian policy was his policy, not some unnamed state department bureaucrat’s policy. This is just another example of Obama pawning of responsibilty and accountability on someone unknown person. He never took responsibility and a useless media never took him to task for his rank incompetence. The media were far too invested in ensuring his success than doing their job.


      • Obama ‘believed in his ‘policy’ to the extent that he thought it was the best chance of peaceful regime change; but he still wasn’t terribly confident it would work, which it didn’t. I hope he didn’t spend all the money.

        I reckon invading Syria would have been worse and certainly much more expensive.

  5. Where does John Kerry’s defense of his use of a private jet to save the world’s climate go on the list? I heard him say something like, “For me, it’s the only way I can [do my job].”

    Why don’t we ever hear Kerry’s fellow leftists guilting and shaming HIM for “white privilege?” (THEIR excuse might make a helluva new one for the list!)

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