“The Buck Stops Here” read a sign on the desk of former President, Harry S. Truman. The story goes that the 2 1/2″ x 13″ sign, painted on glass, resting on a walnut base was made specifically for the President. A friend of Truman’s, Mr. Fred M. Canfil, who at the time was U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, came upon the signs being made at the Federal Reformatory at El Reno, Oklahoma. Mr. Canfil asked the Warden there if a sign could be made specifically for the President. The sign, that read “I’m from Missouri” on the opposite side, was made and mailed to the President on October 2, 1945. I’m not sure there’s been a politician in Washington D.C. who has embodied that sentiment since.
President Truman made what had to be one of the most difficult decisions ever made by a national leader. To date, he is also the ONLY leader to have ever made such a decision–one that resulted in two nuclear bombs dropped on two different Japanese cities, within 72 hours of each another. It was, and remains, the most devastating showing of military might the world has ever known.
Truman’s decision to use nuclear weapons was a perfect demonstration of his deeply held belief that “The Buck.”, or responsibility for the outcome, stopped at his desk. When he took office after FDR’s death, he asked the existing staff to remain, and made it known to them that he was the decision maker–they were merely there to support him. He made it clear to them that, in every situation calling for a decision, one WOULD be made, and if anyone ever wanted to know whom to blame, they should come find him.
Personal responsibility and accountability like Truman’s seems to have disappeared from our nation’s capital city these days. The finger pointing would make just about anyone uncomfortable, and those suffering from Aichmophobia, downright insane. The expression “Pass The Buck” is said to have originated with the game of poker. Well, perhaps that’s true, but it’s been perfected in Washington D.C. Never have I seen so many dodging any and all accountability in the interests of possibly prolonging their time on the political stage, out of fear of being wrong, or out of just plain fear itself.
Truman’s predecessor said, “The only thing we have to fear is, fear, itself.” Well, lately I’m not convinced that’s altogether true. For it seems that today the only thing we have to fear are inept, unapologetic politicians who refuse to take responsibility for their decisions! It’s not really an apology I want, so much as just an admission of culpability when they make the wrong ones. Lately, asking for this seems akin to asking our “leaders” to cross hot coals barefoot, or to swim the English Channel wearing a concrete vest! But aren’t personal responsibility and accountability, and a lack of FEAR of either, the hallmarks of good leadership?
While we’re on the topic of “leadership,” I was informed, not once, but several times during the hearings on Capitol Hill regarding the Benghazi attack on September 11, that “failure of leadership is not grounds for removal from a job at the State Department of the United States.” Who said this, you might ask? The Secretary of State herself, Hillary Clinton. She did so while spending an entire day testifying about the incomprehensible lapse in our security at the embassy in Benghazi that resulted in the deaths of four Embassy personnel, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stephens. Why was she forced to do this? Because NO ONE could get a straight answer out of her, the White House, or anyone else in town as to why this attack could possibly occur despite pleas for additional security in the months leading up to it.
These hearings shed little light on that question, but they did tell us a lot about what’s expected of “our leaders” in Washington today, and “accountability” and “personal responsibility” apparently aren’t on the list. Secretary Clinton admitted to “failures of leadership,” BUT she also insisted that those failures did not warrant removal of “leaders” from their positions. In other words, you get to make decisions that get people killed, and not only keep your job, but still get to call yourself a “leader.”
Does anyone else see the problem here? Why should we have to call for a Congressional Inquiry into such events? Why is a “failure of leadership” not a “removable offense?” It sure seems to constitute one in the real world outside of Washington! Is it really any wonder, considering this lack of true leadership, that nothing ever really gets accomplished there?
It is said that a fish rots from the head down. With that in mind, one would hope to see a photograph of the United States President under the definition of “leadership” in the dictionary. Even if all of the other public servants in office were unable to achieve such a level of integrity, at least he should. Unfortunately, that is not the case. So is anyone really surprised that the responsibility for America’s current economy, and general state of malaise, is blamed on everything from the “previous Administration” to the Republicans in Congress, to just about anyone or anything that be can perceived as a threat to the careers of the leaders themselves.
Things sure have changed since the days of Harry Truman. When Truman chose nuclear attack, he did so knowing the effects of the decision would be felt for generations to come. It is this type of forward thinking, and focus on the future that seems to be missing from Washington D.C. today. This is why we find ourselves $16.5T in debt, running trillion dollar deficits every year, and while politicians realize this burden will eventually fall to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, they seem to have no concern. Perhaps even more disturbing is that their perspectives seem to be of the two year, four year, and six year variety, meaning that their sole focus seems to be on their own reelection. How are we, as a nation, supposed to leave future generations with a better opportunity than we found with such shortsighted goals?
It would seem to me that our President would do well to remember why he moved from Chicago in the first place. He should also communicate that same reminder to the legislative branch as well. These 536 people, including the President, were not born in Washington D.C., they were sent there. They were chosen by a majority of their constituents due to their ability to campaign. It would be nice if their ability to lead, rather than pass the buck, were even half as good.