If character is doing the right thing when nobody’s looking, World War II Gen. Dwight Eisenhower radiated it on D-Day’s eve, writing that “any blame … is mine alone” in never-delivered remarks known as “In Case of Failure.”
In making one of history’s toughest and most consequential decisions — unlike those chronicled in Hillary Clinton’s new memoir “Hard Choices” — Eisenhower prepared for the worst as 150,000 men readied for a veritable suicide mission 70 years ago this month.
Willing to shoulder failure’s blame, even without knowing its reason, Eisenhower publicly attributed the anticipated victory to liberty’s cause and the Allied troops’ “courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.”
Trusting him to put the national interest before his own, Americans liked Ike, twice electing him president, assuring America’s reliability as a guarantor of peace, prosperity, stability and freedom.
Unfortunately, as a parade of disturbing scandals and glaring incompetence engulfs Washington and our national psyche, one thing is certain: Eisenhower’s style of servant-leadership is in short supply today.
More prevalent are self-serving leaders who routinely do the wrong (yet politically advantageous) thing — even in the Rose Garden when everybody’s looking — while refusing to Think Again about their misdeeds, never mind assume responsibility or apologize.
As if in the Soviet Union, where dissidents joked, “The future is known; it’s the past that’s always changing,” today’s national leaders promise the unattainable, spin the news cycle with false narratives, stonewall investigations, smear adversaries and label self-inflicted controversies “phony scandals.” Absent honest disagreement or accountability, the “truth” becomes any story that sticks as they coast on benevolent intentions, above the devastation.
Through successive controversies — Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS, NSA, Syria’s red line, Obamacare and the Veterans Administration — this responsibility-evading strategy has worked, thanks to the mythologizing media that “censor or block stories that don’t fall in line with the message they want sent,” as former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson said.
Now comes the Bergdahl swap, in which the Obama administration — perennially unwilling to negotiate with Republicans it has called “hostage-takers” — struck a deal with hostage-taking terrorists to trade five Taliban commanders for U.S. soldier Bowe Bergdahl.
Presidential author Bob Woodward called the decision “nefarious and stupid” because it ignored military and intelligence recommendations and flouted federal law requiring congressional notification. Like Benghazi, administration Svengalis crafted and bullhorned fraudulent talking points, this time to cast a likely deserter as a war hero who “served with honor and distinction.”
But unlike Benghazi, the story didn’t stick, and a bipartisan uprising ensued. Without a YouTube hate video to blame for the spontaneous demonstration, President Obama dismissed it as “a controversy whipped up in Washington” for which he’ll “make no apologies.”
Clinton also dislikes questions and apologies. When asked on her book tour if she’ll turn over her Benghazi-related notes to the congressional committee charged with investigating the murders of four Americans at the U.S. Consulate, Clinton instead suggested that they read her memoir — called “a newsless snore” by Politico’s Mike Allen.
With genocidal insurgents overtaking Iraq and beyond, Clinton may regret another flippant response to a question about the swap.
“These five guys are not a threat to the United States,” she said, as if 9/11 wasn’t hatched in the very petri dish to which the jihadists are returning.
With such out-of-touch and unaccountable leadership, it’s no surprise that nearly two-thirds of Americans say we’re headed in the wrong direction, a new Bloomberg poll revealed.
But as Clinton might ask, what difference at this point does it make?
A decisive one, as the trouncing of Eric Cantor — the first majority leader ever to lose a primary — testifies. Fellow special-interest crony Sen. Thad Cochran likely will be next.
Cantor got caught in a perfect storm of anti-Washington fever, economic unease and resentment over serial controversies, including the refugee crisis on our southern border caused by derelict enforcement of immigration laws. Even a 25-1 money advantage couldn’t overcome the perception that Cantor favors Wall Street and K Street over his Main Street constituents.
That his campaign donors support immigration policies that are magnets for low-income workers suggests that Cantor doesn’t care about depressing the wages and job prospects of Americans already devastated by economic stagnation. Politicians who discuss immigration in terms of how we can assist those who break our laws are largely responsible for our illegal-immigrant problem.
The reality is democracy doesn’t work without the right leadership, which accounts for the many crises menacing Americans — dying vets, released terrorists, refugee children, IRS harassment, NSA snooping, health care chaos and murdered U.S. diplomats and border guards.
Amid so much failure, Americans must deny politicians amnesty for their incompetence, selfishness, dishonesty and abuse of power.
Think Again — To preserve liberty for successive generations, don’t we need leaders who are prepared to declare, “Any blame is mine alone”?
Melanie Sturm lives in Aspen. She reminds readers to Think Again. You might change your mind. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.