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Anxiety and The Obama Administration All About Accountability

Johnny is 12 years old. He is the son of a doctor. He gets good grades most of the time. He dresses well, and everyone knows he comes from a family of high status. He’s very bright and when he does break a rule he does it cunningly well. Even his teachers are sometimes impressed with the way he covers his tracks or responds to being caught.

So one day, Johnny as the ring leader of a group of friends gets in trouble for bullying a troubled boy at school. This boy is unpopular, socially inept, and comes from a troubled family. Johnny and his friends chase him down after school on the school grounds, they pull his pants down and laugh at him. They tease him, and kick him. They call him names. Johnny gets called to the principal’s office with his friends. They call his parents. Bullying is a serious charge, and could result in Johnny being suspended from school.

His father comes to school and meets with the principal. The principal lays out the rules. He explains to Johnny’s dad, that Johnny has violated the rules about bullying and that the school has a zero tolerance policy. All children are held to the rule so that they can make the schools a safe place for all children. Johnny’s dad fears that suspension from school for a full semester could affect his grades and could seriously affect his son’s future. He does not want this on his son’s record. Johnny’s father tells the principal that he will sue the school if they suspend his son. He tells the principal that he has the means and money to do it. He says he wants to challenge the policy. The principal is conflicted. He fears that a big lawsuit and publicity will be bad for the school and all the children in it. He tells the father "okay, we are going to look forward, but it’s very important that Johnny never does this again." Three weeks later, Johnny starts a shoving match with a girl in his class.

Obama has a big problem on his hands. It’s not a problem that is going to go away for many people who voted for him. His problem is about accountability. There is a saying in AA, "principle’s before personalities". The idea of this saying is that the rules apply and are more important than the personality being considered in regard to the rules.

This saying is important to alcoholics because the disease is often worse for people with "big" personalities. That is, those with charm, and charisma are enabled in their disease to near death sometimes. On the flip side, some alcoholics get very angry and belligerent while in the disease. This anger often makes it "too hard" for family and friends to hold the alcoholic accountable, without giving up or trying to control the alcoholic with anger and punishment. Giving up, enables the disease. As does getting angry and trying to control the alcoholic. (the punishing, shaming and invalidation only encourage the alcoholic to drink more to cope with the shame that others are bestowing). Both of these paths have negative consequences for those trying to apply the rules and to the system as a whole. This is why alcoholism is sometimes referred to as a "family disease" and a "social disease". It has effects beyond the individual. It often changes the dynamics of a group or organization. It affects the way people interact around the disease. The rules are often not applied to the alcoholic at all, because it is so difficult to adhere to the rules without trying to control or punish or giving up entirely.

One of the reasons, that Obama is getting so much flack is because he has demonstrated a philosophy of personalities, not principles. That is, that it appears that his decision making is being influenced by "who" has broken the rule, instead of letting the rules be the foundation for all of us. This could be seen as a "symptom" more than a legitimate philosophy. This "symptom" or "style" of leadership often increases anxiety and is confusing. It does not make the foundation or principles stronger but actually weakens them.

Certainly, the laws of the USA have never been applied in conformity. And certainly, we have had huge upheaval over the principal’s that guide us in our constitution and our laws. The more disparity between how rules are applied, and who they are applied to, speaks to integrity. Do we say what we mean, mean what we say and not say it mean?

Unfortunately, Obama has in his short tenure created a pattern of putting personalities BEFORE principles. This pattern began with his statements about "looking forward" in regard to the law breaking in the Bush administration. The bailout, whether needed or not, was the behavior that followed his statements about looking forward. To date, not one of the financial institutions has been held accountable for broken laws. (they had to pay their bail out money back but none have been prosecuted for violations. Remember that Martha Stewart served a jail sentence for "insider trading" in a relatively small deal.

To date, there have yet to be charges filed from the Obama DOJ in regard to the destruction of evidence during the Bush administration related to torture documents. Despite the fact that clearly a pattern of lost e-mails, destroyed video exists. The suggestion is not that Obama has complete control over this but that at the very least, a formal investigation that holds people accountable could be argued for using the evidence that is public to date. We even have some evidence that congress was literally lied to and misled about the torture program and also in the lead up to the war. (again, my point is not that they haven’t been punished but that there is seemingly, no public acknowledgment by Obama that an investigation is warranted.) Not only that but the nomination of Dawn Johnson was withdrawn after a year of people waiting to see if there would be accountability. It’s not that Obama has not accomplished important things. It’s not that he hasn’t created some change. In my humble opinion it is because he has thus far, refused to hold any one accountable for potential law violations nor does he appear to have the will to do so. He just has not demonstrated this behavior in response to the problems of this nation.

The American people are being hurt, and while they suffered at the hands of the Bush administration, they continue to suffer now. These hurts have not been validated. They have not even been acknowledged by Obama as potentially "legally wrong" and therefore requiring of legal remediation. The anxiety comes from a nation invalidated. Without acknowledgment, without accountability, the fear is that these violations will continue despite Obama’s best intentions. Like the principal in the story of Johnny, the foundation is damaged by applying the rules only in reference to the ease of which a law can be applied.

Then add the oil leak to the picture. It’s not, in my opinion, that Obama is handling it so very poorly so much as that his response is starting to fit into a pattern of invalidation or a lack of holding people accountable to the rules of this country. BP has clearly lied about the amount of oil coming from the spill. This suggests that they cannot be trusted. But Obama’s behavior does not seem to "match" this concept. It may be that his hands are truly tied, but if this is true, it will do nothing to calm the anxiety experienced by those who are quickly losing faith in his leadership. Accountability would mean the cold, impartial application of the laws and contracts of this land. It would not be satisfactory to show anger, so much as to "do" what needs to be done. His comment about "who’s ass to kick" seems more on the polar between giving up, and getting angry. If Obama could instead role model a willingness to fight the hard fight against BP. To use the laws to support his position instead of his personality, some of us, might feel better.

In summary let me go back to the analogy of Johnny, and the alcoholic family. If the principal, holds to the rule of law and is willing to suffer the consequences of applying the rules to "all" instead of only those who will "tolerate" the rules, integrity is restored. The institution will garner respect. The people will shift behavior in response to bullying. It works.

In regard to the alcoholic the same is true. My journey in this regard has been shared in a previous diary here. But let me share that facing the consequences of applying principles before personalities was difficult for me. It was challenging and it meant facing anger and rage. But in doing so, the respect of my children and spouse were garnered. My integrity was restored and our family became a "safe and peaceful place". It meant standing up to my spouse and refusing to let him drive my car when intoxicated, being willing to call the police when his rage would begin. My change in attitude, was not learning to control him, but instead learning to "let go of the consequences" of my application of the rules in my home. Instead, being willing to put the principle above him and myself. It was being willing to have a higher power (be it the laws of the land, the constitution or a more conventional "god"). This is what works and what comforts a family and a nation.

It’s not about revenge or punishment toward the Bush administration. No, it is about validation of our Constitution and the rule of law. It is about validating the importance of our foundation, the cement that holds us together and makes us who were are as a nation. Without it, we are lost. We instead become more like a dysfunctional nation being led by the will of one, instead of the collective will of a nation.

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I am a licensed mental health counselor specializing in the treatment of trauma. My twenty years of experience in treating survivors of domestic violence, childhood abuse, sexual assault and war have increased my desire to participate in studying the invariant relationships related to violence. My current pet theory has to do with denial and truth. The invalidation of those who suffer from trauma, has created symptoms that plague our society. The most serious symptom being the perpetuation of violence in our denial of it's consequences.

The truth shall set you free. But it takes skills (emotional intelligence) to handle the truth...because most of society...
"can't handle the truth."