Ed Driscoll

Emotion as a Substitute for Accountability

Back in 2005, James Piereson explored “Lyndon Johnson and the Cult of Sentimentality,” at the New Criterion. The Oprahfication of what passes for “liberalism” today has reached is now reaching its zenith, when we see, as John Sexton writes at  Breitbart.com, “Emotion as a Substitute for Accountability” in DC:


President Obama is outraged over the IRS scandal. Attorney General Holder is remorseful over the James Rosen subpoena. Former Secretary of State Clinton is exasperated by Benghazi. Lois Lerner is apologetic for the targeting of Tea Party groups. An unnamed White House adviser is chagrined by his own idiocy.

All of these emotive responses to scandal have in common that they help insulate the person doing the emoting from any real responsibility. Holder feels bad about what he has done but that’s it. He’s not leaving office.

Secretary Clinton is frustrated that people working for her denied additional security, rewrote talking points and blamed everything on a You Tube video. But “What difference does it make?!” she blurted out during her appearance before Congress. She feels terrible, just don’t hold it against her in 2016.

President Obama has been on an emotional jag lately. He was outraged by the IRS targeting of his political opponents, is shocked by the subpoena of James Rosen’s emails and (implicitly) repulsed by the drone strike that killed a 16 y.o. American citizen on his orders. It’s all very shocking and he knew nothing (except when he did) but in those cases he’s going to make sure it never happens again.

The idea behind all of these responses is that the person responsible has learned their lesson. Everything in Washington becomes an Aesop’s fable the moment it goes wrong. The powerful ham-handedly act out the role of the enlightened pupil and then carry on as if expecting more than a self-inflicted slap on the wrist would be, well, outrageous.


Of course, all of this emotional kabuki is merely for the benefit of soundbites on the 6:30 PM news. As Glenn Reynolds notes in his latest USA Today column, “We entrust an inordinate amount of power to people who don’t feel any pain when we fall down:”

As scandals explode across Washington — from the IRS scandals, to the Benghazi scandal, to the HHS donations scandal, to Pigford and more — one thing that I’ve noticed is that the people involved don’t seem to suffer much. There are consequences, but not for them. Likewise, Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., left office in disgrace, but wound up with surprisingly lucrative consulting gigs.

This reminds me of something writer Robert Heinlein once said: “Any government will work if authority and responsibility are equal and coordinate. This does not ensure ‘good’ government, it simply ensures that it will work. But such governments are rare — most people want to run things, but want no part of the blame. This used to be called the ‘backseat driver’ syndrome.”

Government officials are happy making and executing plans that affect the lives of millions, but when things go wrong, well … they’re willing to accept the responsibility, but they’re not willing to take the blame. What’s the difference? People who are to blame lose their jobs. People who are “responsible,” do not. The blame, such as it is, winds up deflected on to The System, or something else suitably abstract.

But when you cut the linkage between outcomes and experience, you make learning much more difficult. When you were a toddler learning to walk, you fell down a lot. This was unpleasant: shocking, at least, and often painful. Thus, you learned to fall down a lot less often.

But imagine if falling down didn’t hurt. You wouldn’t have learned not to fall, or at least, you would have accumulated a lot more bruises along the way.


Glenn has some some suggestions for penalties, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the political class to implement them. Sadly, beyond fighting back, all we can do is hope something that Milton Friedman once said. “It’s nice to elect the right people, but that’s not the way you solve things. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things:”

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In the absence of that, no wonder we get the scandals that the Obama administration created for itself. And underneath those elites, a gigantic and slothful parasitic ruling class that collectively resembles this image.

Related: Brian Cates at Big Journalism on “How the Latest Obama Scandals Robbed Liberal Media of Their Favorite Defense:”

Liberals spent 8 long years claiming Bush wanted to target them & suppress their speech and their views by using State power. Then a Progressive administration turned around and *did* what they accused Bush of wanting to do.

Once you understand how projection works with Liberals/Progressives, understanding a lot of their seeming contradictory acts and statements is much easier.  And far more entertaining.

Read the whole thing.

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