The young, lithe Denny Hastert. (Fifth on the left - just slightly out of shot)[photo © 1935 - RKO Radio Pictures]
Three Little Words.
"I accept responsibility"
Those words have become has the cheapest three words anyone under siege in a crisis can utter.
(The second cheapest set of words is "I'm going into rehab." But that phrase has a fourth word (quite pricey) and sometimes actually costs money. Depending how luxurious the chosen country-club hideaway is.)
But that "responsibility" phrase is now trotted out routinely by people using it as a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. Even people who detest the touchy-feely world of "Oprah" and "Dr Phil". Their spin-doctors have told them that it's a cheap 'n' easy fix.
It has been determined to be a courageous-sounding phrase that people in trouble HAVE to say. And it's easy. Because it is utterly meaningless.
It SOUNDS grand. It SOUNDS like the person is full of humility and has clearly grasped the gravity of the situation. And is now shouldering a huge burden. ACCEPTING or TAKING responsibility. Throw in a reference to "The Buck Stops Here" - and you hope to be home free. What more can people want?
But it's only as meaningful as the action that the person takes at the same time as saying it.
Yet oftentimes commentators will subsequently salute someone declaring that he or she has "taken responsibility" for an issue.
No the person HASN'T taken responsibility. He or she has simply SAID that he/she has taken responsibility. A huge difference. It's as meaningful or meaningless as those other Three Little Words that are so prized - yet so often said parrot-fashion because it's what others wish to hear.
The "I Love You" phrase.
Fred Astaire had the best take on that. In Stanley Donen's classic 1951 movie "Royal Wedding" he sang an exquisite Alan Jay Lerner lyric that put THOSE Three Little Words into perspective:"How Could You Believe Me When I Said I Love You When You Know I've Been A Liar All My Life..."
Not only is it a wonderfully witty insight into People Who Say Things Other People Want To Hear - but it's also the longest song title ever registered at the Copyright Office. Almost as long as the nose of certain politicians today...
So when Denny Hastert comes out tap-dancing with those Three Little Words "I accept responsibility" - I think of Fred Astaire (well Denny Hastert is virtually his doppelganger) and I wonder why I should believe him?