Both party conventions are now over and both sides believe their message presents voters with a clear choice in November. However, missing was a concept that both parties use as a politically useful sound bite but never fully embrace—personal accountability or responsibility. The essence of accountability is sacrifice and discipline that produce “tough love” policies that lead to long term success. Are we really getting this from our leaders?
President Obama is a gifted speaker who routinely invokes “personal responsibility” in his speeches but his policies have only relieved people of this essential value. He has added over $5 trillion to our national debt, much of which has brought back a culture of dependency–unemployment benefits extended to more than 2 years, a new record high of Americans dependent on food stamps– while watching unemployment rise to above 8% and consumer confidence drop to new lows. He claims national security victories in killing Osama Bin Laden and getting us out of the Iraq war, yet refuses to acknowledge the contributions of others. In fact during his 2008 campaign, he blasted the policies “Bush and McCain”, then turned around and adopted them. The Iraq withdrawal was pushed over the goal line by President Bush’s “surge” policy while the killing of Bin Laden was long process started under the Bush’s post 9/11 anti-terrorism policies which Obama continued. President Obama does deserve credit and I am happy to acknowledge that. But lambasting a policy, then reversing course and embracing that same policy and refusing to acknowledge the author shows me the concept of accountability is not part of President Obama’s value system
Let’s look at President Obama signature domestic achievement, The Affordable Care Act. The law mandates universal health care coverage but does little to control the major obstacle to health care access, escalating costs. Nobody has “skin the game”, patients reflexively seek all sorts of medical care at the first sign of trouble. They don’t know the cost nor do they care. If we were more accountable health care consumers, this would change. Over the past 20 years only two medical procedures have gone down in cost, cosmetic surgery and Lasik eye surgery. Why? Because neither is covered by standard insurance policies so patients pay out of pocket for these procedures. Hence, theyshop among providers for the best care and price. Everyone agrees quality healthcare is critical, but until people take responsibility for their actions—eat better, exercise, embrace prevention, etc—we are destined for a culture of dependency instead of leading Americans towards the value of personal accountability.
Here is an example of how mandated accountability can work: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 ( the welfare reform law) imposed work requirements on welfare recipients. This was the thrust of the law. Liberals called it “mean-spirited”. Peter Edleman and other senior HHS officials resigned in protest over the law, citing its harshness but consider the following example. Between 1996 and 2000, Burger King company-owned restaurants hired 30,000 workers off the welfare rolls. They subsequently learned that these workers had a higher retention rate than their other workers! These people were more than capable of work, but needed some “tough love” in order to find self-suffciency, pride, and success. One of these workers rose to become a manager and testified before Congress where he “thanked” them for the opportunity.
This isn’t easy, but if our leaders not only promoted the value of accountability, but followed through with tough decisions, they would be rewarded. Do we want more pandering, more “feel good” policies from today’s Democrat party that are unsustainable? Or are you ready for a more sustainable path that will require real pain? The Democrats main rally cry is to make “millionaires and billionaires” pay their “fair share”. I believe upper income folks would pay more if they felt the money was for debt reduction and not more spending. And it would help if their economic success wasn’t so aggressively demonized by Obama and other Democrats. But this populist rhetoric doesn’t even stand up to basic math: IRS figures show the much vilified top 1 % of earners take home 16.9 % of the nation’s total income, but pay 36.7 % of the nation’s income taxes. The top 5 % take home a little more than 31 % of total income but pay almost 59 % of all income taxes. And the top 10 % earn just over 43 % of the total income but pay more than 70 % of all income taxes.
This culture of dependency threatens our country’s work ethic, self-esteem, and prosperity. Our leaders need to become more personally accountable as does our citizenry. Governor Romney has an opportunity to embrace Paul Ryan’s bold budget, even add an increase in the retirement age for social security recipients, and highlight the theme of accountability. Of course this is risky and he will be accused of “throwing grandma onto the street”, but this is a painful prescription that will reform entitlement programs and get our fiscal house in order. Willy Sutton robbed banks because “that’s where the money was”. Romney needs to be bold and he will be rewarded by the independent, swing voters who will decide this election. They are seeking real solutions and understand that tough but needed reforms are critical to our future.