August 19, 2008

Taking Credit for Unintended Consequences

Tom is out in the back yard with his 12-year-old son, Evan. He pitches the baseball to Evan, who whacks it hard with the bat, sending it soaring over the side fence. Tom hears the sound of his neighbor's window shattering. Oh crap! Tom and Evan head inside so that Tom can comb his hair and put on something more presentable than the faded concert t-shirt he's wearing. But just as they are about to head over to their neighbor's house, they hear an approaching siren.

Tom's thoughts race as he imagines all sorts of awful possibilities. "What if the ball hit old Ms. Jones in the head?" "What if Mr. Jones had another heart attack?" Evan is terrified as well. "Dad, are they going to be alright? I didn't mean to hit the ball over there."

Not sure he wants to get in the way of the approaching ambulance, Tom decides to walk out into his front yard. He can always pretend to do yard work if it looks like he'd be in the way. But they have to know the ball came from his yard, and he doesn't want to appear like he's hiding.

Tom's heart sinks as he opens the front door. It was not an ambulance siren he'd been hearing but a police siren. Two sheriff's deputies are entering the Jones house. "They couldn't have called the cops, could they? It was just a baseball. I'll pay for the window. Why involve the police?"

Tom reluctantly tells Evan to stay put and slowly heads toward his neighbors' home. As he nears the property line, the two officers emerge from the house with a young man in handcuffs. What is this?

Ms. Jones calls over to Tom, "There's my hero! Do you realize that ball interrupted a robbery? You knocked the robber out cold!" Evidently, the man in cuffs had broken into the Jones house and was about to rob them when the ball came through the window, struck the robber in the side of the head, and knocked him out.

While talking to Ms. Jones and one of the sheriff's deputies, Tom does something strange. He takes credit for the entire affair.
Yeah, I was in the side yard and saw that guy confronting you threw the window. I figured it might be too late by the time I got over there or the cops got here, so I threw the ball threw the window hoping I'd scare him away.
Tom's story does not make a lot of sense, but Ms. Jones buys it. The officers are satisfied, and the local newspaper even runs a story in which Tom is called a hero. Only Tom and Evan know for sure that it isn't true, and Evan is too scared of Tom's temper to reveal what he knows. Tom is taking credit for the unintended consequences of his action by claiming after the fact that it was intended all along.

Why am I telling you this story? Because I think John McCain is doing the same thing with regard to Bush's escalation in Iraq. Like Tom in our story, McCain knows full well that the intent of Bush's so-called surge involved accomplishing goals which have largely been abandoned. The political reconciliation Bush claimed to be pursuing has not been achieved, and yet McCain insists that the surge was a success and that his support of it had been the right move all along. He's trying to take credit for unintended consequences and thinks that the American people are stupid enough to buy it.

Even worse, this seems to be McCain's approach to the war itself. We don't get to go into Iraq because of WMDs and then retroactively change the reason to something that might make us look better when no WMDs are found. Bush screwed up, and McCain was wrong to adopt his war. The escalation did not help accomplish the goal of the invasion, nor did it accomplish the goals Bush offered as justification at the time.

The political spin McCain is now attempting to make it look like his support for Bush's surge was right all along must be exposed for what it is. We need to let his poor judgment and repeated attempts to lie about it be the anchor around his leg that sinks his campaign. Unlike Evan, we must not remain silent.

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