When the Buck Keeps Going

Posted on Nov 1, 2013 | 6 Comments

buckIn his controversial book about the George W. Bush administration, The Way of the World, author Ron Suskind wrote that Vice President Dick Cheney preferred to keep the president partially in the dark.

In Cheney’s view, according to Suskind, the Watergate scandal that took down Richard Nixon had resulted from “the way the president had, in essence, been over-briefed.” Therefore, Cheney felt that Bush should never be told certain things directly, in order to make the “president less accountable for his actions.”

In recent weeks, President Barack Obama has pleaded unawareness of several embarrassing episodes, most notably that the National Security Agency was listening in on the calls of foreign leaders and that the Obamacare website was running into big problems prior to its launch.

As a practical matter, no president can be aware of everything going on in the sprawling government he theoretically manages,” Peter Baker noted this week in the New York Times. “But as a matter of politics, Mr. Obama’s plea of ignorance may do less to deflect blame than to prompt new questions about just how much in charge he really is.”

The headline of the article: “Where the Buck Stops, Some See a Bystander” (an invocation of one of Peter Drucker’s favorite definitions of leadership).

Indeed, without a doubt, implementing two management rules from Drucker would have made things a little better for Obama.

The first rule applies to the healthcare website: When you give an order or make a decision, follow up and get feedback from someone other than your immediate subordinate. In this case, specifically, Obama should not have relied so much on assurances from Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, as he apparently did.

Reports—all an American president is normally able to mobilize—are not much help,” Drucker wrote in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “All military services have long ago learned that the officer who has given an order goes out and sees for himself whether it has been carried out. At the least he sends one of his own aides—he never relies on what he is told by the subordinate to whom the order was given.”

Second, and more important, is the rule of surprises: Prevent them.

“In an organization, there is no such thing as a pleasant surprise,” Drucker warned. “To be exposed to a surprise in the organization one is responsible for is humiliation, and usually public humiliation. . . . The terrible fumbling in the first year of Bill Clinton’s administration was largely caused by the new president’s not organizing himself and his staff to protect the president from surprises.”

What do you think? How much blame does President Obama himself deserve for the NSA scandal and the mess with the health insurance exchanges?


  1. Fred Pieplow
    November 1, 2013

    The President cannot be responsible for every detail that goes on in the administration. The President IS responsible to set the policy, goals, and limits to be understood by the administrators running the departments. So, yes, the President is responsible for current issues at the NSA and with the Exchange – not the details, but that the stated goals are not being met.

  2. Dr. Richard B. Mann, PhD
    November 1, 2013

    For health care, TOTAL responsibility! He has no excuses, PERIOD! He made promises, PERIOD! He said you can keep your plan, your doctor, and the cost curve would be down. If he was as much in the dark as he claims, he is either incompetent or he lied to convince the public to join. For the IRS targeting an enemies list, he was aware that the governmental servants three levels down would take his remarks a ORDERS. This is how it works for presidents. I saw this first had during the LBJ administration. I was on the communication’s staff and heard what Johnson said and how his remarks were taken by the drones three levels down. If the president does not know how this works, he is blind to how his remarks are taken, or he does not want to know, intentionally, so he can later deny it. Recently, it was said that all politicians lie to get votes and that is just politics as usual. But, we want to believe their promises, even when the Washington Post gave him four Pinocchios. And, Fact Checker gave a bushel of Pinocchios for the IRS scandal. My question, Is this an impeachable offense? If he had been honest would the health care law have passed and would the Supreme Court have said the Penalty, was really a Tax?

  3. Mike Grayson
    November 2, 2013

    Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution bestows the executive power on the President. He is the highest ranking official and is in charge of the total management of the government.

    Article 1, Section 7 makes him the chief legislator because he must sign and approve every bill.

    Article 2, Section 3 requires him to know the “state of the union” and make recommendations to Congress from time to time. He has failed to lead the House since 2010 and has done a poor job of leading of the Senate.

    Last but not least – Article 2, Section 3 says that “he shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed.” There is little accountability for incompetence in this administration. There is also a tendency to bypass laws they don’t like by issuing executive order rather than working with Congress.

    President Obama is fully responsible and has failed on numerous occasions to live up to the demands of his office. He has demonstrated poor management and people skills, and perhaps even worse decision making. The number of unanswered scandals and incompetence has grown to the level that even his strongest supporters cannot deny. Fast and Furious, Benghazi, NSA, IRS, the use of drones, failure to enforce current immigration laws, failure to deal with the national debt and Obamacare are all examples of a high level of incompetence – or corruption… Let each person be the judge.

  4. Carl
    November 2, 2013

    President Obama has his only himself to blame as often direct reports adopt The Emperior,s New clothes method ,in other words cover up the mess.

  5. Patricia Valencia
    November 3, 2013

    Politics is like coal; whoever enters not greasy leaves smudged. The politics is a human activity concerning making decisions. These decisions will drive the actions of all society, and the world needs leaders, their ideas living in concordance to their actions. Leaders require the political world to argue over their ideas and postulates.

    As coal is a solid fuel of vegetable that contains different nutrients to act; political action is a qualitative world, where they have to play several games between many leaders. At the same time, the coal chemistry is unique in its forms: a diverse number of compounds. Also, political world is unique. The political life is a mixture of shrewd political tactics to be the winners. In many instances, their political argumentation is misleading and often false. Leaders use communication phrases to persuade and manipulate the mind of the voting population. Just as coal burns easily, a political leader has a power to act in order to change things in this political game.

    Coal is a material whose origin comes from the accumulation and physical-chemical alteration of vegetable matter. Inside the political world leader’s ideas and postulates are political strategies of power, which they use to influence the people. Ideas as plans or actions are the first step for them. When their ideas are converted into postulates, the policy accepts that they are true. As a basis for reasoning, leaders have the possibility to choose and to set a practical tool, and to present it as a sober reality.

    The perfect and the good occur when accumulations of vegetation result in the formation of the cohesive substance coal. Similarly, in policy the perfect and the good occur when the power of luck, handling of stimulus, and money through voters becomes a reality. A leader has won the contest. However, it is necessary to observe that the political world has played with the illusions and dreams of the people. When the dispute is won, the pathway is present to execute power and the people are forgotten.

    Coal and politics are energy that give life. Coal as a natural substance for domestic and industrial usage. Hardness, abrasiveness and mechanical strength give to coal the cohesion to form a fuel. The action and effect that tends to unite these elements gives better combustion. The political energy in the world involves making decisions that are manifested through leaders. Their ideas and postulates are sources for planning and actions that will be implemented. Power and ambition are principal ingredients of the political world. When leaders take on ethical and moral principles, political parties operate with harmony and equity, but when other principles accompany leaders, the political game is hazy. You shall know them by their actions.


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