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ken_bw.jpg     Ethicalego Speaks

Ethicalego (Kenneth Brooks) discusses current events from a critical thinking perspective rarely expressed elsewhere

Let’s fire a government official to justify our fears.


By Kenneth Brooks

May 12, 2009


President Obama accepted Louis Caldera’s resignation as the director of the White House Military Office (WHMO). This resignation ends a silly controversy over the Presidential Airlift Group’s aerial photo shoot over New York City. A simple act like them flying a jumbo jet used as Air Force over New York harbor to take its picture created a two-week controversy involving the President.


Some people panicked when they saw this jumbo jet flying low over New York City, apparently from a continuing reaction to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Learning it was a nonthreatening flight soothed their fears, but not the embarrassed anger over their panic. They could have owned their baseless fears as emotions they needed to control. Instead, they sought after a government scapegoat. Politicians in and out of office supported their irrational demands and delivered Caldera as the scapegoat.


What did Caldera do that was so bad it justified President Obama sacking him? According to his critics, he was guilty of insensitivity to people’s lingering fears from the 2001 terrorists’ attacks. This may be true. Nevertheless, Caldera’s insensitivity did not threaten anybody. People panicked from the threat of the boogeyman they built from their fears. Holding Caldera accountable implies that he had the duty to protect them from their emotions.


A few months earlier, another airliner caused fear when it flew low over the New York area and crashed into the Hudson River. Nevertheless, politicians and the news media praised airliner Capt. Sullenberger a hero for saving passengers lives and not a scapegoat for creating panic on the ground. This decision left only one option for the anybody who panicked at the sight of this low flying airliner. They had to assume responsibility for their emotions. Irrationally, society assigned responsibility for people’s baseless fears about a low flying airliner to them or to a scapegoat depending on the reasons for the flight.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, John McCain’s economic adviser Phil Gramm said this about Americans. “We have sort of become a nation of whiners. You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness.” McCain sacked him for those remarks. However, the description “whiners” accurately describes people who complain the government failed to protect them from their poor investment decisions or from their fearful emotions about low flying airplanes.

There are costs for society’s use of the scapegoat to excuse people’s failures. Americans blame senseless bureaucracy for the long time it takes government officials to complete routine tasks or provide answers to simple questions. They do not connect those delays to people’s caution least they end the political scapegoat to appease whiners’ complaints as Louis Caldera did. They shuffle paperwork hoping to shift responsibility for a decision to someone else. Failing this, they launch more paperwork to include as many blameworthy people in the decision as possible. Sacking Caldera will make government decision-makers overly cautious and government more expensive and still not address the problem of Americans’ irrational fears about airplanes and other matters.