By Tom Ehrich
When he faced withering criticism, President Truman pointed to his Oval Office desk and said, “The buck stops here.” He took action.
Most presidents since Truman have said, “What buck?”
President Obama says, “Oh, that buck never reached my desk. And I’m really angry about it.”
Democrats in Congress say, “Hey, somebody stop that buck.” Republicans say, “Gotcha! Didn’t see that buck coming, did you? Here comes another.”
Meanwhile, as the buck bounces, the nation’s infrastructure continues to crumble, public education at all levels is on starvation rations, big banks are back at their risky and self-serving folly, military veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 26 a day, families are in chaos, corruption is rife, and large industries cannot hack it without cheating, lopping off jobs, and hiring the desperately poor to work in unsafe conditions.
Thus systemic dysfunction becomes the new normal for a nation whose lofty ideals now far exceed its ability to take action.
A divided citizenry disagrees on which “rascals” to “throw out,” but I suspect we are united in disdain for our extravagantly paid and privileged leaders.
Avoiding accountability becomes the new management art form. When J.P. Morgan Chase shareholders began to vote against their own chairman, insiders stopped publishing vote tallies. The Justice Department played “big brother” in chasing down Associated Press reporters for writing inconvenient articles. Gun lobbyists deny any connection between lax gun laws and rampant gun violence. Silicon Valley lobbies hard to hire technology stars overseas, rather than push their own school systems to work harder at teaching technology.
At all levels, from large enterprises like Yahoo to the small shop on the corner, workers fail to show up for work, fail to complete assignments, and yet still expect to be paid.
Is it as bad as all this? No, it’s worse. If you were to tabulate the signs of dysfunction, it would break your heart.
Is there hope? Oh yes, there is hope. At ground level, people are taking action to make lives better. They are doing the best they can to counterbalance official malfeasance and C Suite bullies.
I see a wonderful new attitude in faith communities, as pride and isolation give way to desire for mission. The example being set by Pope Francis is promising.
As people expect less from those who presume to lead, they are finding common ground.
It would be good if President Obama abandoned diffidence and discovered a passion for political action. It would be good if Congress’ absurd antics gave way to concern for the nation. It would be good if the wealthy realized “enough is as good as a feast,” as my father often said.
Until that “glorious summer” arrives, we are on our own and probably will be the stronger for it.