1 a : liable to be called on to answer b (1) : liable to be called to account as the primary cause, motive, or agent <a committee responsible for the job> (2) : being the cause or explanation <mechanical defects were responsible for the accident> c : liable to legal review or in case of fault to penalties
So, the dictionary definition notes that there are attendant consequences when one “takes responsibility,” voluntarily or involuntarily. Let’s examine how this theory proves out in real life.
In 1974, after Watergate, President Richard Nixon created a new rhetorical standard when he accepted the “responsibility, but not the blame” for the break-in and cover-up. As it turned out, there was plenty of blame to go around, and he and many other perps resigned. A few did jail time. Unfortunately for the late former president, his gambit of verbal chicanery was about 20 years ahead of its time.
The earliest recorded success in destroying the meaning of “responsibility” occurred when former Attorney General Janet Reno took “full responsibility” for the carnage at Waco, Texas. Do you remember what happened next? NOTHING. Understand that this miserable woman took full responsibility for the preventable deaths of scores of Americans. She didn’t resign, she wasn’t fired, she wasn’t brought up on charges, and she was barely investigated. There were no consequences whatsoever.
Thus “taking responsibility” and “NOT taking responsibility” would now amount to the same thing, and the number of public figures who would shamelessly take advantage of this partial destruction of the English language is growing every single day.
In the ongoing Church scandals, even though Cardinals Law and Mahony have admitted culpability in various matters, don’t look for them to resign anytime soon, although it would help tremendously in the healing process. That this unrepentant posture flies in the face of Catholic theology doesn’t seem to matter–at least here on Earth. If Pope Alexander VI is to be forever excoriated for bringing scandal to the Church by bribing his way into the papacy, what should happen to Mahony and Law, who have hurt far more people?
In the corporate world, we see case after case of executives resigning or being fired in disgrace, only to receive enormous golden parachutes. Indeed, they benefit much more from failure than success. What a concept!
How can anyone have confidence in the financial markets when formerly trusted firms such as Merrill Lynch and Andersen commit grotesque acts, absolutely contrary to their fiduciary responsibilities?
Our government even penalizes success, with its truly Fascist antitrust prosecution of Microsoft, and its sick notion of basing its most major tax on income. The point is not that the rate is 5 percent or 90 percent. The point, rather, is that whatever amount you do get to keep is SOLELY at the pleasure of the government.
Do standards and old notions of responsibility still apply anywhere?
Law 12 of the Laws of Soccer stipulate that if a player commits a serious infraction, he is to be shown the red card, and be sent off the field. Note that he is NOT to be replaced, and his team must play shorthanded for the duration of the match. Moreover, in many cases, this player is barred from participating in the next scheduled match. Clearly, the player and the team pay a serious and immediate price for bad conduct.
Cold comfort that we must go to the world of sports to get a dose of basic morality, as long as we don’t look too carefully.
With most institutions on the scrap heap, is it any wonder that after an extensive search, Dartmouth chose Mister Rogers to deliver the main address at its 2002 commencement exercises?