EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 24, 2012

Column: Finding someone else to blame is Job 1

Taylor Armerding
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — One of the more perceptive proverbs out there is: “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan.”

But it leaves one thing out, and that is the frenetic contest to make sure failure is not actually an orphan – to name the father so there is no doubt that it is not us, but somebody else.

That was on display again during the past week as we all wrung our hands in distress over the prospect of Twinkies and Wonder Bread – two of the least nutritional and least deserving of the label “food” products on the market – vanishing from our lives.

Even those who inhabit the fever swamps of the left seemed a bit mystified that the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, a branch of the AFL-CIO, would strike when the maker of those unhealthy products, Hostess, was essentially insolvent already, and had warned that a strike would put it out of business.

It is one thing to refuse to make labor concessions when a company is profitable. It is another when the prospect of 18,500 jobs disappearing is real.

So, to counter what it considered the brainwashing of the public by corporate propaganda, the union issued the following statement: “Despite (Hostess CEO) Greg Rayburn’s insulting and disingenuous statements of the last several months, the truth is that Hostess workers and the union have absolutely no responsibility for the failure of this company. That responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the company’s decision makers.”

Got that? Absolutely no responsibility. The company’s financial troubles have nothing to do with absurd union work rules like requiring Twinkies and Wonder Bread to be transported in different trucks.

But the larger point is that, as usual, the proverb holds. The company says the union is the father of the failure. The union says it is the company. Meanwhile, Hostess is going down the tubes.

As a number of wags have noted, if the company was successful, the union would be invoking President Obama’s “you-didn’t-build-that” mantra. It wouldn’t be the “company’s decision makers” who were responsible. It would be the “hard-working” union members.

About the only time in the business or political world that you hear people giving credit to anybody else is when some bureaucrat is holding a press conference after a snowstorm or some other problem, and spends the first 10 minutes of it thanking every superior and elected official in sight for their “tireless” and “selfless” work in behalf of the public. And that has nothing to do with real gratitude or even real accomplishment – it’s just the obligatory sucking up to the people who gave you your job.

The examples of this are almost endless. Every time public school students fail to make any progress from one year to the next, the teachers’ unions insist that their members bear no responsibility for it. It is the family, the environment, poverty, the peer group, inadequate facilities, not enough “investment” in aides, therapists, counselors etc.

But if the kids do well, then suddenly the parents, the environment, the income level and the facilities have little or nothing to do with it. The kids’ success is, of course, because of the outstanding teaching going on. The formula is always the same: They’ll always take the credit, but never the blame.

I’ve seen it as a small-town newspaper editor, where schools and parents will demand publicity for students who excel in athletics, the arts or academics. I have no problem with that – worthy achievements deserve publicity.

But when some of those same students would get into legal trouble over drinking or drugs when they were 18-year-old seniors, suddenly the parents and the schools would demand no press at all, insisting that they deserved protection because they were “just kids.” Unfortunately for them, in the eyes of the law, they were adults. Or, perhaps it was fortunate for them, since the “kids” got a bit of a reality check before they went off to college.

But after we get done scoffing at the absurdity, we all ought to realize that most of us are guilty of this kind of thinking as well. We want credit for our achievements and to blame our failures on the fact that we’re “suffering” from the disease of addiction or something else. If we persist in it, and let our leaders get away with it, we will have much less of a chance of solving the intractable problems facing us.

There is another saying, attributed to Charles Edward Montague: “There is no limit to what a man can do so long as he does not care a straw who gets the credit for it.” Or, as it has been paraphrased more recently, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.”

We all ought to aspire to live by that creed.

Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at t.armerding@verizon.net