President Harry S. Truman had a sign on his desk famously stating, “The Buck Stops Here.”
Although not a huge fan of Truman, there were a few things over and above that phrase that I really admired from him:
—Having the Courage to fire General MacArthur for insubordination;
—Dropping the bomb and thereby ending War2 and;
—Supposedly paying off poker debts (as POTUS) by writing a check (first one to guess why in the comments, gets 90-day free access to all my articles).
As a now-retired Army Officer with over three decades of commissioned service, that short yet powerful phrase, The. Buck. Stops. Here. has always resonated with me. Part of that is is a military distinction between Staff Officers and Commanders. Staff Officers are advisors. They have expertise in sometimes very narrowly defined areas. But the emphasis is on “advisor.” Commanders make the final decision. Even if a Commander has delegated certain authorities to a subordinate Staff Officer, the responsibility for that subordinate Officer’s decisions, remains with the Commander.
I remember back in March there was a move afoot to get President Trump out of the daily picture shown to Americans and let Dr Fauci be the face of our response to the pandemic. Even his own party got on board with that absurdity.
Senators told Trump that Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has done a great job so far and that they would like to see him become the face of the federal government’s response.
Back then I responded to that mewling with a series of articles that clearly showed that our response to this issue was much more than what would result from a single expert’s analysis and would instead require executive oversight and decision making – the sort of decision making that had experience in hearing often conflicting “expert” advice, sorting through it, and finally deciding, having to get it right…every time.
Truman was right. The buck stops here. It stops with us and it stops with the “commanders” we have elected, Mayors, Governors, and the President – all Executive Positions. This applies to the decisions throughout these United States as school districts decide when and how to resume in-person teaching and get our children, the ones who will be paying for our Social Security, back into the classroom.
My good friend and writing mentor Charles Lipson has a great article out on the danger of putting “experts” in charge of this decision. From his article:
We need such expert advice as we decide whether to open schools this fall, and we should turn to educators, physicians, and economists to get it. But ultimately we, as citizens and the local officials we elect, should make the choices. These are not technical decisions but political ones that incorporate technical issues and projections. We should hold our representatives, not the experts, responsible for the choices they make.
When we listen to experts, we should remember Clint Eastwood’s comment in “Magnum Force”: “A man’s got to know his limitations.” Even the best authorities have them, and one, ironically, is that they seldom admit them, even to themselves. It is important for us both to appreciate expert advice and to recognize its limits every time we’re told to “be quiet and do what they say.” We should listen, think it over, and then make our own decisions as citizens, parents, teachers, business owners, workers, retirees — and voters.
My mentor is correct. The voters need to make this decision. They can do that by sending their kids to private schools, charter schools…or by telling their local school boards to open up their schools. Ultimately, this decision belongs to “commanders.” Commanders are the voters, the Mayors, Governors, and the President. Staff advisors educated in one narrow field of expertise, like Dr. Fauci, should not be the ones deciding.
While we are speaking of the “deciders,” the ones responsible, we should consider this timeless adage:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
T. R. Roosevelt