The Corner

Culture

Responsibility and Blame

Sarah Palin in debate, October 2, 2008 (Jim Young / Reuters)

David L. Bahnsen has written a book on themes dear to my heart. It’s called “Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It.” I have done a Q&A with the author, here.

Thinking about his book, I remembered a few things — and shared them with David in our podcast. When George W. Bush was running for president in 2000, he said he wanted to foster a “culture of responsibility.” Indeed, he wanted to be “the responsibility president.” Not long after he was sworn in, al-Qaeda attacked us, and the thrust of his presidency was changed.

Flash-forward to 2008. Sarah Palin is the Republican vice-presidential nominee, and Joe Biden is the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. They debate. And Gwen Ifill asks a question about the recent financial meltdown. Who’s to blame?

Palin makes the usual noises about the predators on Wall Street. But then she says something extraordinary, from the mouth of a politician: “. . . we need also to not get ourselves in debt. Let’s do what our parents told us before we probably even got that first credit card. Don’t live outside of our means. We need to make sure that as individuals we’re taking personal responsibility through all of this.”

Finally, Dusty Rhodes — Thomas L. Rhodes — the late president of National Review. After some high-flying years with a blue-chip company, he went out on his own, with a partner. The new business went bust, in 1971. Dusty and his partner never declared bankruptcy. “In those days, if you declared bankruptcy, it put a stigma on your name, unlike today, when everybody does it, no problem.” Dusty told me this one afternoon, for something I was writing. “I thought, ‘The only thing I have is my name. I don’t want to have a stigma on it.’”

Dusty and Bill, his partner, paid off all of their debts. It took 13 years. Dusty’s wife, Gleaves, told me, “I can still remember where I was standing when Dusty told me the last debt had been paid.” Dusty added, “I wanted my name unbesmirched.”

That seems so old-fashioned — but so right. Anyway, I think you will enjoy the Q&A with David Bahnsen, and his book, too.

P.S. My latest Jaywalking podcast is here. In addition to talk, you got music, by Beethoven, Shostakovich, and, not least, Lynyrd Skynyrd (that song about a state).

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