Franke: The blame game as national pastime

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Mark Franke

So what do you think about …? Before you even finish the question, expect to hear a litany on everything that is wrong with our country and who is to blame. Granted, there are a lot of things going wrong these days as we geezers are well aware. It just isn’t the 1950s anymore.

Sure, things are bad or at least seem to be worse than any time in recent memory. Inflation is the highest since the Carter administration, especially at the gas pump and the grocery store checkout. Murder and other crime rates are rising precipitously in most of our major cities. Our southern border situation is almost impossible to understand by us Hoosiers. Employers can’t find employees at present but soon will be laying off workers when the recession’s effects take hold. And then Hurricane Ian laid waste to thousands of Florida homes and businesses.

The typical discourse at any gathering is incessant whining about how bad things are. Do people really enjoy these conversations? How did we get a societal urge for self-administered doses of disgruntlement? Can we not be happy unless we are, well, unhappy? Do we take some perverse subconscious pleasure out of this macabre self-flagellation?

So what is the solution to all these problems that monopolize our social discourse? The answer almost always is to find someone to blame. How does that help? Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that the blame game has become our national pastime?

Slowly but surely, America over the past few decades has devolved to a society of victims and victims need someone to blame. This excuses us from taking at least a modicum of personal responsibility for our own problems.

I might wonder if I just hang around with the wrong people but a quick glance at today’s news headlines quickly disabuses me of that notion. It’s one thing for a bunch of friends to spend their time together griping about the state of the world but it is a whole order of magnitude worse when our national leaders do the same thing. How about trying to solve these problems?

I realize solutions are neither simple nor obvious. Nor are the best solutions guaranteed to be the most politically popular. That’s why our political leaders get paid the big bucks, maybe not in public salary but in limitless ego-stroking and other perquisites.

It wasn’t always this way. There is an anecdote, perhaps apocryphal, about an agreement between President Ronald Reagan and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker at the beginning of Reagan’s first term of office amidst 14% inflation. Reagan reputedly told Volcker to get inflation under control and that he, Reagan, would take the political fallout when a recession followed. It worked.

But not these days. I try really, really hard to avoid becoming a cynic but I am fighting a rearguard action. When it comes to that group of grumpy friends, I tend to limit my time with them if I can’t redirect the conversation to something more positive. Fortunately my closest friends love to talk about more pleasurable things like baseball and grandchildren.

Speaking of baseball — and I just had to work it in since I am writing this on the first day of the playoffs — there is an old story that has a moral which fits this situation. When Bobby Bragan was hired by the Milwaukee Braves to replace the fired Birdie Tebbetts, he found two letters inside the manager’s desk with instructions to open for advice in an emergency. When the Braves went into a losing streak, Bragan opened the first letter and found these words: “Blame everything on me.” That worked until next season when another losing streak occurred. Bragan opened the second letter which read: “Prepare two letters.”

Many of our current political leaders must have received the same set of two letters. They certainly are following the first letter’s advice to blame someone else. With an election just around the corner, maybe it is time for these politicians to read the second letter.

While Nov. 8 may make things better, it will only be at the margin. No President or Congress can change our collective attitude about our duties as parents, employees and citizens. We have every right to demand better of our political leaders but it will ring hollow unless we demand better of ourselves.

I will be only one of about 150,000,000 voters next month, so will my vote really make a difference? It will to me. More important is my daily vote about how I will think and act that day. It is one vote against a total of one. That doesn’t leave anyone else to blame for my bad decisions.

Although my wife does exercise a frequent veto when it comes to my choices.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

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