Thought of the Day: Personal Responsibility

Personal Responsibility. For American Conservatism, this ideological dictum is the fount from which all legitimate government action doth spring and the virtue that informs their conception of the relationship between Individual and State.

“Look not to the government/society/the collective to solve your problems” declares Personal Responsibility; “Be not a victim of your circumstance”; “Reject the determinism that places you as a mere prop in your own life”; “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and take control of your own ship with the sweat of your brow and the brawn of your back”

For American Conservatism, the notion of personal responsibility serves as the justification for limited government and the minimal role it should serve for the individual and society. Without getting too far into the debate about the merits and limitations of this virtue let us agree that in some measure, it is absolutely crucial to the idea of democracy and the goal of self-government.

So what does the notion of personal responsibility mean for a public official in today’s political landscape? Given the urgency of the recession, the monumental fiscal deficit, the grim projected future of entitlements, national industry and infrastructure, and given the lack of a clear majority in congress, personal responsibility for a legislator and agenda-setter today means addressing the current political situation earnestly and realistically, or, in other words, compromise.

Discussing the disconnect that has emerged between his Administration’s policies and the way they were communicated to the American people, Obama said at his post-mortem press conference, “we were so busy and so focused” that we forgot “leadership isn’t just legislation,” It’s also “a matter of persuading people. And giving them confidence and bringing them together. And setting a tone. And making an argument that people can understand…I think that we haven’t always been successful at that,” Obama added, saying that he takes “personal responsibility” for this disconnect.

One might even say, of this particular statement, that Obama takes too much responsibility, failing to acknowledge the Right Wing campaign of fear and misinformation that informed the entire healthcare debate.

Recognizing that the governing calculus has changed, Obama signaled his willingness to compromise with the incoming Republican majority on issues such as earmarks, infrastructure and even certain provisions in the Healthcare Bill and the Bush Tax Cuts. But while such conciliatory overtures infuriate the Left, they demonstrate a commitment to the virtue of personal responsibility in today’s political reality.

So what about the Republicans? Those for whom personal responsibility is a self-professed guiding principle? A bright and shining example of failure to practice what one preaches, is House Majority Whip Eric Cantor.

In an interview with Chris Wallace, Cantor indicated that he’s interested in bipartisan compromise—in theory:

“Listen, are we willing to work with him?…First and foremost, we’re not going to be willing to work with him on the expansive liberal agenda he’s been about, but if he is serious about working with us on things like earmarks, for instance — which he said he would work with me on that — I’m absolutely hopeful we can do that. I hope he calls Harry Reid the first thing to get the Senate to go along with the House position.”

But when prodded about specifics, Cantor’s true idea of compromise became clear—either total agreement with the Republicans, or  government shutdown

Remember, president Obama and  the Democrats have already indicated their willingness to make painful compromises on the Bush Tax Cuts; middle-class tax cuts would be extended permanently, while the ones for the families making more than $250,000 would be extended temporarily. In the interests of implementing realistic solutions to this country’s problems and  avoiding partisan gridlock, is Rep. Cantor and the Republican Party willing to compromise on their positions? Absolutely not.

“No, I am not for decoupling the rates, because all that says to people looking to go back in and put capital to work and invest to create jobs is you’re going to get taxed on any return you can expect. I am not for raising taxes in a recession, especially when it comes to job-creators we need so desperately to create jobs again…at this point, I really want to see that we can come together and agree upon the notion that Washington doesn’t need more revenues right now. And to sit here and say we’re just going to go about half way, or we’re going to send a signal that it’s going to be uncertain for job-creators and investors to put capital to work, that’s exactly what we don’t need right now.”

What a nice idea of compromise…let’s everyone agree with ME! Oh, and I forgot, if you fail to do so, all of the consequences will be your fault:

“I would say…it’s as much as [Obama’s] responsibility,” said Cantor in response to a question from Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace about who will be to blame for a government shutdown or a default on the debt. “In fact, he is the one who sets the agenda as the chief executive and as the president of this country.”

Given the Republican majority in the house, it’s safe to say that the Republicans have officially claimed a position of responsibility for governance. But this kind of all-or-nothing position is anything but responsible. In fact, it’s an attitude better fit to a spoiled child throwing a tantrum.

Mr. Cantor, the real loser in your refusal to take responsibility for your and your party’s actions will be American Democracy, for the mechanism by which personal responsibility works is acknowledging that one must suffer the consequences of one’s actions—this is what makes one responsible. But if you flatly reject that your actions are your own, and the consequences are not yours to bear, then you can continue to live in your dream world. Unfortunately, it will be anything but a dream for the rest of us.


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