The Ethic of Responsibility

Well, as usual, Barbara Walters got the interview that scooped the competition when President-elect Barack Obama said, in answer to one of her questions, that he thought the auto-industry executives who flew into Washington on their private company jets lobbying for bailout money were obviously “tone deaf” to the concerns of ordinary Americans in the current financial crisis. And he didn't stop there.

In an interview to be aired Wednesday night on ABC, Obama chided “captains of industry” for tapping into public bailout funds while still indulging themselves with corporate perks. Such actions, he said, show a lack of “any perspective on what's happening to ordinary Americans.” Obama was adamant that corporate executives have responsibilities beyond themselves—“responsibilities to your workers, to your community, to your shareholders.” That's Obama's word for it—responsibility. He put it simply yet firmly: “There's got to be a point where you say, 'I have enough, and now I'm in this position of responsibility. Let me make sure that I'm doing right by people and acting in a way that is responsible,'” such as the example he suggested that bank executives should voluntarily forgo their bonuses this year. Obama promised that his administration would be characterized by a return to “the ethic of responsibility.”