Do We Need Scapegoats?


Have you lately heard the ringing cries for blood?!  The Obamacare debacle lies before us.  Major mistakes have been made — on the one hand with the President’s terrible misstatements about “keeping your health plan,”and in the large-scale system planning disaster on the other. In an attempt at remediation last week, he said about the two problems respectively, “that’s on me” and “we fumbled the rollout.”  This is not just frustrating Republicans, most of whom despised Obamacare, if not Obama himself. Democrats are now looking sheepish, confused, even bolting in one way or another.

Should someone be held accountable?  Should heads roll?

What do you think?

My take is this:  When something as messy as this happens, those in authority should actually lean against finding a scapegoat.  Goats and sacrificial lambs dominate religious histories, mythologies, and captivate group psychologists (Freud was fascinated by, and fascinating about, the phenomenon.)  Given this broad history, it’s hard not to think that the search for a scapegoat fulfills a longing for some type of expiation, a need to do something, and to express outrage.  But our major concern, or so it seems to me, should always be to do two things:  correct what’s broken as quickly and fully as possible, and learn for next time.  That sure may mean replacing someone. A major failure like this certainly suggests somebody was out of touch or over their heads.  A genuine inquiry seems to make sense into whether Bush’s “Brownie” post-Katrina, or Obama’s Sebelius or his staff advisors, or Sebelius’ ____ has what it takes to do the job (e.g., facing brutal facts!).

Henry Ford reputedly called an engineer into his office who had made a terrific blunder.  The man entered, apologized profusely and said he understood why he was being fired. Ford told him that he was doing no such thing, as he had just invested a million dollars in the engineer’s education.  Ford knew that it was about fixing and learning.

I don’t see any reason to satisfy some blood-thirst, the mob’s need for action, the tossing of a goat out into the wilderness, whether that’s done to keep the evil spirits at bay, or to hope we’ve taken care of “the idiot who caused the problem in the first place.”  I can imagine in some cases a “lamb” teaches the others a lesson — I confess, that perhaps inconsistently I do feel this way about the fact that “no one has gone to jail” for the Wall Street debacle of the late 2000s.  But I suspect that in many cases there’s plenty of  embarrassment and learning and renewed determination that flow from the mistakes themselves.

It seems to me the big question in such cases is:  “What’s the fastest and most effective way to get back on track?” Not, “Who can we blame for derailing the train?”

What do you think?  Is there some great value in rolling heads?



Graphic from Huffington Post, 11/17/13