- - Thursday, April 6, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

What exactly, do the words, “I take responsibility,” actually mean? In American public life, circa 2017, usually not very much.

Politicians and other public officials reach for the cliche when they get caught breaking the law, but it’s an empty gesture, like offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of tragedies that catch the public eye. Such thoughts flee once the cameras are turned off and the reporters put away their pads and pencils, and the Lord knows most of the pols haven’t prayed since they dropped out of Sunday school.

But it’s a nice thought, comfortable to anyone who doesn’t think about it. Taking responsibility once meant something. It was the public apology that preceded sacking, and the guilty party could console himself, as he fell on his sword, with the knowledge that he might be the example to keep someone else from a similar end.

Hillary Clinton announced with considerable fanfare, with a concert of bugles blown by notabilities in the media, that she took responsibility for misleading everyone about her infamous private email server and subsequent breaches of national security, but she never offered herself to punishment and humiliation. That was left to the voters, who did in fact perform their duty with admirable enthusiasm.

Susan Rice has not yet taken responsibility for what she did wrong, because she’s still at the stage where she’s telling anyone who will listen that she did nothing wrong. Given her record of treating the historical record as if it is made of rubber and Spandex, it’s fair to assume that the story is only beginning.

Miss Rice rattled off a false tale on several networks after the attack and death of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, at Benghazi. She lied in considerable detail about how the riots in Libya were a spontaneous anti-American demonstration against an obscure American video questioning arcane points of Islamic theology. The truth was that Libyan jihadists had plotted to kill Americans, that American diplomats had pleaded for days for help, and none was offered. Susan Rice knew all this, but the Obama administration thought a lie would be more convenient.

Now we’ve heard from Miss Rice again, with the revelation that she “unmasked” American citizens, innocent of wrongdoing, who were innocently recorded in conversations searched by U.S. intelligence agencies’ for important leads to mischief. The identity of American citizens was meant to be protected unless specific exceptions were made by administration officials looking for clues and leads to crimes. When word got out that she was responsible for “unmasking” some of these names, she first denied it. Soon the backtracking began. Well, maybe she did it after all.

What is still at issue is whether she then passed this material on to others in the Obama administration, perhaps to be used against the Republican candidate. But pshaw! Would anyone in Washington, and particularly a Democrat, do that in the heat of a presidential campaign with the Republican candidate closing in for the kill?

“Taking responsibility” carries no moral or ethical recognition in Washington that words have meanings. Invoking the phrase does not mean paying a price in dollars and cents for failure to honor the public trust, nor should he necessarily surrender privilege and prestige of office. This new version of responsibility lite requires neither pain nor suffering, and it fatally erodes the concept of right and wrong in public life.

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