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What Did the President Know and When Did He Know It?

“Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, ‘What did the president know and when did he know it?’ is about moral responsibility.

Leaders have a moral responsibility to the people they serve.  Those relationships are a leader’s stock in trade and are to be valued above our agendas.  For it is through the relationships we develop that we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Our actions set the tone for the whole team.  They express our values and our priorities.  Above all leadership is something we live.

It’s easy to get trapped in the agenda and forget why we are leading in the first place.  The agenda is very visible and exciting.  Lost in the agenda, we forget who we are and those we serve.

We can be so focused on the goal that we forget the process.  We move so fast we can’t hear our own values.  We have to slow down so that our values catch up with our behavior.  If we don’t, we make poor judgments, we misplace our loyalties, confuse priorities, and forget the well being of the people we lead and the example we provide.  In short, we ask the wrong questions and so we get the wrong answers.

Before we choose to lead and throughout our leadership journey, we need to ask who we are and why we lead?  It is that inescapable core that determines our behavior. “

This citation from the LeadershipNow blog is so pertinent to what Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. termed Benghazi-gate that WWTFT is linking to it for our readers.

The commentary cited above focuses on moral responsibility and that is a topic very meaningful for our time. Specifically, the concern is about the Obama administration’s effort to mislead the public about the perpetrators of the sacking of the American consulate and the murder of Ambassador Stevens.  Generally, our concerns are much broader.

Leaders are not alone in bearing moral responsibility for their actions.  We, the people, are also morally responsible for our behavior.

“We can be so focused on the goal that we forget the process. We move so fast we can’t hear our own values. We have to slow down so that our values catch up with our behavior.” 

That seems a good assessment at any time, but especially now. We dare not ignore the process because the process is what determines the character of the nation and in no small measure, its future.

If we don’t take time to consider whether our values comport with the values of our leaders “we make poor judgments, we misplace our loyalties, confuse priorities… In short, we ask the wrong questions and so we get the wrong answers.”

Among the right questions are: Do we value the rule of law, or shelve it for   (what we’re told) is a higher good.  Do we prize free cell phones, loan forgiveness, and redistributing wealth more than the Constitutional prohibitions they breach?

The president’s actions indicate his “values and priorities” and by reflection, those of the executive branch. His use of rhetorical flourishes to obfuscate facts is reflected in the conduct of his campaign as well.

He is a skilled practitioner of situation ethics – his behavior is dictated by what he perceives as the requirements of the moment. Said another way, the end justifies the means, and the end is the retention and extension of power in the pursuit of his political agenda.

When Eric Holder says he will enforce some civil rights laws but not others he is following the president’s lead. When Secretary of Transpiration Ray LaHood says his plan is “to force Americans out of their cars,” he is following the leader.  When Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius treads on the First Amendment she is secure in the knowledge that she does her leader’s bidding.  Most recently, the president ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to stop enforcing federal immigration law or face disciplinary action.  That raises another question that needs asking: If the president can use “executive discretion” to nullify a law, are their any limits to his power?

The query in the title of this post was originally posed by Senator Howard Baker regarding the Watergate break-in. It alluded to a leadership crisis of national proportion.  We now face another crisis of leadership, this one of international proportions.

The actions of a president are again being questioned, this time in the weeks leading up to a national election. Was the public misled by Obama and others because the truth exposed a careless disregard for the safety of the consulate and our ambassador, despite evidence that both were at risk?

Was it because the truth contradicted Obama’s campaign claims that the death of bin Laden signified a fatally weakened al Qaeda? These are not inconsequential questions. They go to the heart of Obama’s moral responsibility, that inescapable core that determines his behavior.

The two-part question then is not, what did the president know and when did he know it, but whether we, the people, will permit him to continue leading the nation, and whether his actions express our values and our priorities.


1 James D. Best { 09.30.12 at 8:31 am }

The president believes that shunning Israel, pandering speeches, smaller American influence in the middle east, and minimum military presence (for example, the absence of Marines at embassies and consulates) will cause the Moslem world to become friendly and turn their wrath on others. The Libyan attack made a mockery of his core beliefs. I think the ridiculously obvious lying was part denial and part defending the presidents foreign policy strategy . In another era, this strategy was called appeasement.


2 Marcia { 09.30.12 at 9:13 am }

The administration’s behavior is more than inexcusable. It is a betrayal of trust and of the men and women, Stevens among them, whose efforts and sacrifices Obama has forfeit.


3 James D. Best { 09.30.12 at 10:34 am }

Agreed. Good post. People need to be reminded that in the end it is all about values.


Erich Sielaff Reply:

The year was 1992 and the phrase was born: “Character doesn’t count”. This is what got Bill Clinton elected in the face of evidence that pushed Gary Hart of the race 4 years earlier. But the notion that the end justifies the means became codified that year. And that is how the Left operates. Breaking a few eggs to make an omelet. Obama’s minions can justify anything on the basis of keeping him in power. Because keeping him in power trumps all.


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