Friday, March 20, 2009

Dodd Takes the Hit for Obama

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill on 3/20/09

On his first public day as a national figure, Jim Webb, the new Senator from Virginia, rebutting George W. Bush's State of the Union speech back in January, 2007, was already a living legend. He sent chills through Washington establishment by using the phrase “Wall Street barons.” Whoa! Be careful with that! It could ruin everything. It was the Clinton Democrats and the DNC who were the new Wall Street strivers.

In little over two years, there are essayists today on NPR calling for Maoist tactics of marching them through the streets with dunce hats on the way to execution.

And there is certainly a lot of blame to go around. Chris Dodd deserves some. But recall last week’s polling showed him to be vulnerable in Connecticut and coming in under 50% to unnamed opposition. That was before his role was revealed on the AIG bonuses. By itself, it would have proved to be a harbinger for 2010; a positive one for Republicans, who are already looking up in the polls.

It was an important poll because one of the most liberal states turning on one of its most liberal politicians would have revealed a real change of attitude. Especially focused on one who had been an almost permanent regional icon in Washington like the Kennedys from Massachusetts or the Bushes from Texas. Dodd’s sudden vulnerability would reveal a deep and rapid change at the top of the body politic.

Then the crowd turned on him with a vengeance when it discovered his role in the AIG bailout bonuses. Now they are literally calling for blood.

But there were others who could have taken this hit all along on the fiscal crisis and the economic turndown. People like Larry Summers, Tim Geithner, Hank Paulson, George W. Bush. Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan. Barack Obama.

Obama says he takes the blame, like Clinton and the others did, but he doesn’t take the blame, he only says that. Because taking the blame would mean he would actually have to retire his position if he was a man of honor. Of course he won’t. No one ever has since Japan’s Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto took complete responsibility for a public scandal and resigned in July 1998.

I remember it well because I brought my kids out to watch it on TV to illustrate to them what honor was. The Japanese have a Samurai ethic, so when the principal takes responsibility for failure he must yield his authority. In the Clinton administration over a million Rwandans died and died by the knife, while the President and his men and women searched for the will to act and did not find it. Clinton took full responsibility. He went to Rwanda after his tenure and apologized. We have a basketball ethic.

Is Dodd being scapegoated? If so, for whom?

Scapegoating is a manifestation of a conflict of feelings. It would be for all of them: Clinton, Greenspan, George W. Bush, Hank Paulson, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. And Bernie Madoff and Barack Obama.

But Obama in particular. Dodd is taking the hit for Obama.

There is a purpose in a culture for honor. It prevents the dishonest blame of scapegoating.

There is a purpose for scapegoating as well. The scapegoat is a proxy. He deflects blame from the principal who actually deserves it. But not for long.