Where Should The Buck Stop?

Candid Commentary CJ Clark

[su_dropcap style=”flat”]P[/su_dropcap]RESIDENT HARRY TRUMAN kept a sign on his desk that said “The buck stops here.” That’s one of those cute little quotes that we bring out whenever we want to shine a spotlight on a “higher up” that isn’t taking accountability for something that happened on their watch. “See,” we say, “You’re not playing by the rules.”

We expect leaders to take responsibility, even if the leader actually had no real connection to the bad decision or inappropriate act, right?

Photo: Fotosearch/Getty Images)

In the military, we said “RHIP, but RHIR as well,” roughly translating to “rank hath its privileges, but rank also hath its responsibility.” You get some perks the higher you climb on the ladder, but you also must take responsibility for everything under your purview as you look down from the ladder.

This is accountability. Leadership 101 teaches that leaders are accountable for everything that happens within the scope of their responsibility. That puts the onus on leaders to know what is happening, to hire those who can be trusted, and to step up and fix things when they go wrong, no matter what their involvement.

Merriam Webster defines accountability as:

  • the quality or state of being accountable; especially :  an obligation or willingness to accept responsibility or to account for one’s actions <public officials lacking accountability>

Drill down a bit to “accountable” and you see

  • required to explain actions or decisions to someone
  • required to be responsible for something

Accountability in Flint Michigan

Today’s news carries the story of three public officials in Flint Michigan who have been indicted in the city’s water crisis. Those indicted include a district water supervisor for the Michigan Department of Environmental quality, a district water engineer, and a former laboratory and water quality supervisor who now serves as the city’s utilities administrator. Charges include misleading federal regulatory officials, manipulating water sampling and tampering with reports. The act? Changing the water supply for the city of Flint from Lake Huron to the Flint River, which had been leaching lead from pipes for some time.

Drill into the stories and you see people demanding that the Governor of the state be held accountable. That’s where “the buck stops” in their minds.

A Flint resident calling for accountability of the Governor said “it would be a ‘miscarriage of justice’ if [he] isn’t charged. She worries that the announcement of charges represented ‘just two to three people who will take the fall for actions that have included many, many more people. It definitely goes much higher’….this is exactly what we were afraid of. That it would fall down to a couple of individuals.”

Flint is personal. It hits close to home.

These people who are demanding accountability have experienced traumatic loss of lives and health. It is very personal.

Residents of Flint pass by those impacted regularly, see their stories unfold, and worry that they or their families could be impacted, as well.

But what about when the close connection is missing?

Five thousand two hundred and twelve miles from Washington DC, U.S. Ambassador Stevens and three other Americans were killed in an attack on the diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya.

Five thousand miles is a long way away, even though the events unfold in front of us on CNN and Fox. We watch with sadness in our eyes as pictures of those lost in the attack are shown, as their families speak out and as reports of the investigation emerge. And then we go back to our lives, and get caught up in the daily grind.

A few years later, we learn that one of the most senior government officials in the United States government made a personal decision, in conflict with policy and protocol, to make her life easier by hosting all of her email outside the firewalls of the government. If you read [at least some] of the news, there were emails related to Benghazi on her personal server, which, by the way, had been carefully screened before being turned over.

What about accountability

But, she said, there was nothing marked classified. Really? What about “the buck stops here?” Wasn’t she the head of the State Department, so ostensibly the top person accountable for everything that happened in the Department?

She wants us to think that some analyst in the State Department whose job was to sort through and classify message traffic was to blame, not her. To be sufficiently gullible to believe that, one must logically consider her sufficiently unknowledgeable about foreign affairs to realize if that poor schmuck of an analyst had made a mistake and allowed classified material to materialize outside the firewall, she should have immediately sent up a red flag. After all, she was the senior official IN CHARGE of foreign affairs.

Well, apparently even Michigan is sufficiently gullible, as 48.3% of the democrats cast a vote to make her President of the United States, and the county housing Flint went for Clinton. She didn’t win the state, but nevertheless, Michigan appears to not have the same anger at her lack of accountability as they have for the Governor, for his role in the Flint water crisis.

So is it about proximity or is it personal?

Is it simply that Benghazi is too far away to have a meaningful impact on us? Is it because not even knowing the scope of her role as top decision-maker for the State Department is so far removed from our daily lives that we don’t even consider it our choice of leader? Or is it about her skill in making it personal?

Vote for me, to see the first woman in the White House.

Vote for me, and I will ensure that black lives matter.

Vote for me, and I will make certain that your children will not be subject to gun violence in schools.

Vote for me, and same sex rights will be amended into the Constitution.

Vote for me, and I will make those rich white guys pay.

What is more important – words or actions?

The very thought of a United States President that doesn’t understand the simple foundation of leadership is frightening to me. If she ignores something so basic and is willing to allow others to take the fall for her, what other ethical lapse will she have?

Her words promise everything to everyone. These are words that cannot possibly be fulfilled given our harshly divided country.

I would much prefer someone I could trust to do the right thing for the greater good of the country, than someone who promised me everything I ask for.


CJ Clark
CJ Clark
EXPLORING issues beyond the sound bites of today’s news coverage and challenging the status quo. It’s about questions, issues and answers. And it’s about time …

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