"He started it!"
"No, she started it!"
"He who smelt it dealt it."
"It takes one to know one."
"It's all your fault."
"I won, I'm the biggest and strongest."
The only comment not made by print and TV pundits after the midterms was "He who smelt it dealt it." Everybody wants to blame someone else, at least when they're not wagging their finger with, "See, I told you so."
Losers blame; winners take credit for winning. Thus blame runs rampant in Democratic circles. Patterns of blaming start in childhood, helping the child evade guilt and avoid punishment. It is true that blaming others helps the blamer enrich his perceptions, not to mention sharpen his tongue. But ultimately, blaming rarely leads to new thought or understanding.
Frank Rich wrote that instead of believing in hope and change, people "voted for change without hope." He blames both Obama and the Democrats who denied their connection to him.
By blaming blamers I, too, can escape personal responsibility. When I was writing my book, Bush on the Couch, I found myself learning a lot about unconscious blame, so much so that when I said, "It's raining", my wife quipped, "Is it George Bush's fault?"
My central organizing thesis about the psyche of President Obama (see Obama on the Couch) is that he suffers from "obsessive bipartisanship: -- a characteristic that we can now call "anti-blaming disorder." But even judges, who are expected to consider all sides of an argument, eventually must make decisions. For the past six years Obama's main thrust has been to work together, using any chance he can get to say, "We are the United States rather than simply red states and blue states." He said so again several times after the midterms.
One way to share responsibility equally among politicians from red and blue states is to substitute the word "gridlock" for "obstruct." Gridlock describes traffic jams when cars in intersections keep other cars from crossing or moving ahead. Looking up the term in Wikipedia, the image amusingly showed red cars obstructing blue cars.
In Congress, Republicans block all intersections, preventing any legislation getting passed. The result is gridlock; the cause is willful obstruction. It's not that Washington is "broken": Republican anti-lawmakers are willfully paralyzing it.
And who started using the phrase "Washington is broken"? It implies something passive, that there enough blame to go around. I think that often truth can be 90 percent on one side of an argument (98 percent in the case of scientists who say there is climate change and the 2 percent who don't believe there is). Is it really the 98 percent that equally causes our national inability to act on global warming? I'm sure not. Breaking Washington is more apt than Washington "is" broken, because the question remains who broke it. Obama knows the answer, as do other leading Democrats. But they blindly follow his lead as he refuses to point the finger at Republicans. And many Democrats actually point fingers back at their own president.
Fear of blaming others is almost as powerful as willfully making accusations. For some, fear of evading responsibility is as great an emotion as the need to evade it. For Obama, blaming others might stem from a long-forgotten refusal to take sides between his mother and father, who separated when he was an infant. This may result in the president's absolute refusal to clearly delineate red and blue states. Perhaps only now, now that he's faced with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, can he be forced to act unilaterally on immigration, in order not to revoke yet another promise he once made.
Unilateral decision implies blame, finally. If he really takes executive action on immigration, Obama will directly be blaming Republicans.
So things get turned around. I blame those who ran from Obama for what ultimately became a self-inflicted midterm disaster. By separating themselves from the president, they were implicitly blaming him for our problems, a tactic that never succeeds -- though it may work temporarily for their Republican opponents. What is required is action.
Blaming is only helpful when it's genuine and accurate. The one accurate criticism I have of Obama is that he did not clearly and regularly label Republicans as obstructionists. In the end I blame Obama for not blaming anyone but himself. But at the same time, not evading personal responsibility is one of his greatest strengths. Go figure.