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the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier (Ohio)

How Much Blame Do We Share for Our Leaders' Failures?

Are we rats or are we humans?

Six years ago, in the wake of the botched management of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, a friend warned me against blaming Republicans.

I replied flippantly that as an unrepentant progressive, I quite enjoyed blaming Republicans, though I recognized that even the GOP, PNAC, and all their associated think-tanks and trained media rescue-dogs couldn’t have single-handedly created a disaster of that magnitude. I added that if the Republicans had planned Katrina, they probably would have directed it to Ohio. Of course there aren’t any hurricanes in Ohio, but heck, there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq, either.

Another friend who had volunteered in the cleanup of Katrina running a ham radio operation observed that among the agencies and organizations trying to help, the farther up the hierarchy of any institution, public or private, the worse prepared the people were, the more out of touch, the more incompetent, and the more their efforts were downright damaging.

... sounds like The Peter Principle to me. And an interesting corollary would probably be that the higher the hierarchy, the greater the level of incompetence.

But how does that work in democracy? Should we expect our elected leaders to rise to our level of incompetence, or theirs? And then who should we blame for their failure?

Or have they failed?

Take Obama. He claimed to offer "the Audacity of Hope", and too many of us interpreted that as a Hope of Audacity. We hoped Obama would be audacious, bold and daring, and stand up against war, torture, extralegal assassinations, proliferating weaponry and tyranny, and privatization of public responsibilities, and for human rights, due process, universal health care, quality education for all, and policies for safe renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and humane immigration.

Though Democrats feel he’s failed, he’s been quite competent at managing the takeover of our government by the private sector, corporations and the very wealthy.

Looking at the field of possible Republican candidates doesn’t offer much hope either, though there is plenty of audacity – and citizens who apparently resonate with it.

Four years ago I wrote a piece based on the Declaration of Independence that included these paragraphs:

The Bush-Cheney White House has enlisted "Armies of foreign Mercenaries" (in this case multinational corporations) to do the works of death, desolation, and tyranny. These bright angels manipulate public policy and public funds: Big Arms - corporations that profit from making deadly weapons and materials for war; Big Energy - profiting from fossil resources, nuclear technology, and human poverty and overpopulation; and Big Brokers - of services ranging from student loans and health care to mercenary soldiers, "extreme rendition,"commercial spying, and propaganda for governments, businesses and ideologies.

It is increasingly evident that Bush and Cheney believe they Command & Control the U.S. government, its people and its resources, that they need not obey its laws, or even let citizens know what they do with our money, our government, our young soldiers and our venerable ideals


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And We’ve Got It Covered.

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What’s changed except the names of those in power?

Today our elected leaders committed to privatization, predatory capitalism and Command & Control management are prevailing, making us non-rich people into lab-rats and feeder-rats for their experiments. Cutting our rations of locally grown food, affordable homes, education, medical care, clean air and water, and feeding our youth and our planet’s resources to war, weapons and private profit will not lead to justice, jobs, prosperity or democracy. It will only reduce more of us to rats to serving the recreations of the rich.

The problem with ideal democracy – the commitment to give every person the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives – is that it is not quick or nimble enough to deal with its own complexities, with the language, metaphors and concepts of media-driven popular culture, or with the light-speed communication of information, misinformation, and disinformation, let alone those engendered by overpopulation, predatory capitalism, runaway consumption, mass media, politics, religions, and advances in science, technology and medicine. It is further challenged by the extension of personhood to corporations.

* * *

Fifty years ago Reinhold Niebuhr observed:

"The sickness from which modern civilization suffers is organic and constitutional. ... Private ownership means social power. The unequal division of social power leads automatically inequality and injustice."

Any kind of power – physical violence, slavery, racism, sexism, bullying; political, theological, or economic, corrupts both those who wield it and those who receive it.

Today’s efforts to destroy unions and collective bargaining in Ohio and Wisconsin, and to promote our assorted overseas wars are essentially aimed at stripping self-determination from – thereby enslaving-- those unable to pay for it.

Are we rats or are we humans – aware, discerning, self-determined and capable of choosing our leaders, actions and words? Eight years ago I had the audacity to be hopeful ("Let's Talk..." 5/18/03  ) that we could talk to one another.

Apparently we’ve reached the level of our incompetence. Now who can we blame?

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Caroline Arnold

Caroline Arnold retired in 1997 after 12 years on the staff of US Senator John Glenn. She previously served three terms on the Kent (Ohio) Board of Education. In retirement she is active with the Kent Environmental Council and sits on the board of Family & Community Services of Portage County. Her Letters From Washington has been published as an e-Book by the Knowledge Bank of the Ohio State University Library.  E-mail:

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