Do We Need Scapegoats?

Have you lately heard the ringing cries for blood?!  The Obamacare debacle lies before us.  Major mistakes have been made — on the one hand with the President’s terrible misstatements about “keeping your health plan,”and in the large-scale system planning disaster on the other. In an attempt at remediation last week, he said about the two problems respectively, “that’s on me” and “we fumbled the rollout.”  This is not just frustrating Republicans, most of whom despised Obamacare, if not Obama himself. Democrats are now looking sheepish, confused, even bolting in one way or another.

Should someone be held accountable?  Should heads roll?

What do you think?

My take is this:  When something as messy as this happens, those in authority should actually lean against finding a scapegoat.  Goats and sacrificial lambs dominate religious histories, mythologies, and captivate group psychologists (Freud was fascinated by, and fascinating about, the phenomenon.)  Given this broad history, it’s hard not to think that the search for a scapegoat fulfills a longing for some type of expiation, a need to do something, and to express outrage.  But our major concern, or so it seems to me, should always be to do two things:  correct what’s broken as quickly and fully as possible, and learn for next time.  That sure may mean replacing someone. A major failure like this certainly suggests somebody was out of touch or over their heads.  A genuine inquiry seems to make sense into whether Bush’s “Brownie” post-Katrina, or Obama’s Sebelius or his staff advisors, or Sebelius’ ____ has what it takes to do the job (e.g., facing brutal facts!).

Henry Ford reputedly called an engineer into his office who had made a terrific blunder.  The man entered, apologized profusely and said he understood why he was being fired. Ford told him that he was doing no such thing, as he had just invested a million dollars in the engineer’s education.  Ford knew that it was about fixing and learning.

I don’t see any reason to satisfy some blood-thirst, the mob’s need for action, the tossing of a goat out into the wilderness, whether that’s done to keep the evil spirits at bay, or to hope we’ve taken care of “the idiot who caused the problem in the first place.”  I can imagine in some cases a “lamb” teaches the others a lesson — I confess, that perhaps inconsistently I do feel this way about the fact that “no one has gone to jail” for the Wall Street debacle of the late 2000s.  But I suspect that in many cases there’s plenty of  embarrassment and learning and renewed determination that flow from the mistakes themselves.

It seems to me the big question in such cases is:  “What’s the fastest and most effective way to get back on track?” Not, “Who can we blame for derailing the train?”

What do you think?  Is there some great value in rolling heads?



Graphic from Huffington Post, 11/17/13


  • I fully agree with your insight on the need for constructive contemplation and
    forward-thinking action in the aftermath of a debacle, whether made-made or of
    natural causes. I’m disappointed however that you chose to air your biases by
    stating that most Republicans despise Obamacare and perhaps even Obama himself.
    Further references to the Bush ‘brownie’ comment and call for the jailing of those responsible for the Wall Street debacle perpetuates the very blame-seeking, name-calling activity your article seeks to discourage.

    • Biketrails: Thanks for the feedback. Unsurprisingly, I don’t agree with you that I have undermined my argument. I am being quite open about my own political bias AND saying biases need to be set aside. Perhaps “despise” was too strong a word, but most R’s certainly do NOT like Obamacare, nor Obama; that’s just plain fact. I used the Brownie reference, because it is a ready image we all remember. I was not saying he should or shouldn’t have been “scaepgoated;” just as I’m not saying Sebelius should or shouldn’t be fired now. I am saying in either case — including my admittedly biased view of the Wall Street situation — the issue should turn on learning and fixing, not a knee-jerk reaction — whether the knee being struck by the hammer is one belonging to an R or a D’s.

  • You are absolutely right and on point! The bigger picture for me is the fact that elected officials despite their party affiliations, should work for and on behalf of all the people. Hence “We the people.” Instead of pointing fingers elected officials had the opportunity to shine. The Republicans and Tea Party legislators should have worked together with the Democrats to find a solution to resolve the glitches/problems collectively to assure that Americans across the country were able to sign up for healthcare instead of wasting valuable time trying to find a head to chop off. Sometimes I feel that elected officials forget what they were elected to do. We do not need educated people, (grown ups) to act like children…take their marbles and go home because they did not get their way. The American people need leaders on all sides to work together for the common good of the people. Doing new things always comes with a challenge and yes sometimes struggles. The USA is a great nation because it’s innovative and willing to take risk for the greater good. You wouldn’t know that when all you see is grown men and women bickering about a failing process when they played an active role in its destruction before it even got started. Yes, Sam I am talking about green eggs and ham! God bless America and politicians who dare to dream, dare to sacrifice, and dare to speak the truth in an effort to make a difference in the lives of the citizens of the USA despite their party affiliation, race, age, gender, and religion.

  • It’s the same every time–I hurt so therefore you(whoever you is)should hurt too. But in this case there are people in this country who have definitely been hurt by the missteps of our government. I feel like the people who were developing the website didn’t have as much “skin in the game” as the President. Didn’t they care enough? My biggest issue is that our governing body shouldn’t have “teams” right now & they should put the full weight of our government to fixing the problems, not finding someone to blame. But since most of them are pompous babies, they are shouting about how Obamacare is bad & using it as a bargaining chip. Who is it exactly that they represent?

  • The Obamacare debacle provides a classic situation of how our politicians are inept at being leaders. Rather than finding a mutually agreeable solution to the problem, this has provided Republicans with a need to get on their partisan pulpit and further rail against the law. At the same time, the Democrats are defending why the situation happened in the first place.
    What if this same amount of energy were spent on finding a solution that benefits the American public as opposed to one party’s grand “schemes”? WOW! How much better could the situation be right now.
    Too often our nation’s politicians look for a scapegoat, because that often provides a benefit to one party and a detriment to the other. It is hardly ever about learning anything or even doing what is best for the American people.
    Real leaders would understand that they are there to serve the people first and not their party. Real leaders would be servants to the people and not sycophants to their parties.

  • Blame, as blame alone, is not all that useful. If it is a matter of humiliating a person, or bullying to obtain power, then that is not good. To find the cause and correct it, is a good application of blame. Blame is a more emotional word than cause, but in the sense of finding the cause, blame is a useful thing. There are times when the person, or persons who’s decisions and or actions were to blame for a problem need to be removed, or replaced. These are persons who it is found, are not competent, or who are dishonest, or perhaps have mental illness, or other factors which make them poor choices for the work at hand. So we have Obamacare and you also mention the Wall Street financial calamity of 2008. If the persons responsible for the Wall Street of 2008 were not put in jail, they should have been replaced, since they are making no serious attempt at correcting the reasons for the financial crisis, so it can happen again for the same reasons, with the same persons, with the same motivations.
    President Obama made the mistake of advancing a politically far right proposal, the combination of government subsidies to increase the number of persons with health care, and also to increase the amount of business for health insurance companies. Propaganda organizations such as the Heritage Foundation came up with this idea, not as a “free market”
    solution, but as a way to use government mandates to steer business to private companies. That is what the privatization propaganda is about, not about the free market. There is no such thing as a free market. The use of government to steer business is an abomination of the basic principles of our government. I forget the exact quote, and which Founding father said it, but he said that when people figure out that government can be used to their private benefit we will be in trouble.
    The better solution, and the lower cost program, is to have Medicare for all. We need a sizable increase in the minimum wage, combined with an increase in the amount collected for Social Security, and the amount collected for Medicare. This is the richest nation on Earth. We can afford this. I am tired of the lies that our country and government are going bankrupt. We need to improve our standard of living, not cut it. The blame for the false ideas about economics needs to be placed at organizations like Americans for Progress and the Heritage Foundation, and their funders. We need corrective action to set the economy and our standard of living on the right path.

  • Dan, do you remember 2007 when John Edwards’ proposed “Brownie’s Law”? Ironically is it not, that “qualified people, not political hacks”, lead key federal agencies should still not
    be the obvious presidential benchmark when selecting key leadership management
    positions? On the other hand, is there something else going on just below the surface we are missing?
    “Can’t I quit now?” wrote FEMA chef Michael Brown in his now famous email from November ’05 as Katrina raged. I doubt Kathleen Sebelius will use this tactic nor should she be the scapegoat too easily as the political fallout would prove damaging to the 2014/16 Democratic Party hopefuls.
    ACA is a complex case, fair enough, w/many political barriers to success but anyone who navigates Federal web sites under the best of circumstances already knows how tough that road is.
    Dan here is a little food for thought… as it turns out there is 132 agencies shown on the
    Federal Business Opportunities home Internet Web site ( Each one of these FED agencies has its own IT protocol and computer-speak. They should only have
    one voice period. Talk about needing the patience of a saint, so my solution to
    putting the frosting on big government cake programs & it may be only after
    Hillary wins the WH in 2016 … make government digital internet communication venue a Cabinet Position. Leave telling the tale to IT government experts and leave Federal policy making to seasoned government experts already.
    Side bar; FYI Michael Brown came to his first federal government management job via friendship with Bush 2000 campaign manager Joe Allbaugh. After the WH win Allbaugh was rewarded by Bush and made the FEMA director. As the late Peter Drucker, famed management consultant & author might have said Brown was then promoted up the ranks to the point of incompetence…in a hurry.
    Kathleen Sibelius it may be fair to say on the other hand has walked the high road to government leadership. She is a past Kansas governor, women’s & children’s health care advocate & daughter of a former Ohio governor who in his own right was a US Congressman that voted in 1965 to approve Medicare. So helping all kinds of people is in her family’s genes, I think her heart felt intention is trying to improve the lives of people everywhere.

    However, no matter how smart a person is a man has to know his limitations! Don’t you

    • I imagine that Obamacare has been Director Sebelius’ worst moment by a longshot. What a challenge and opportunity to get it back on track.
      Your idea on a cabinet-level IT position is interesting. I have to believe that the US Govt is the largest and most complex “business” in the world. God bless anyone who can create some uniformity in it!

  • I, too, like the Henry Ford approach to mistakes. No one wants to make mistakes but we are all part of the human race. We make mistakes. We misjudge. We plan with the best intentions. Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan. I have found that when I make a mistake the best solution has been first to admit the mistake, formulate a plan to correct the mistake and move on. I think that this gives credibility and allows for others to learn from those mistakes.
    Unfortunately, I do not see much compromise in our system today. We either want to be the one that is right, and always right and when you are not you are all wrong. Gosh, if I felt this way about my marriage, my children and my employer, I may not be progressing forward and accomplishing anything. Life is a give and take, full of learning others point of view, consideration, discussion and compromise.

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