May 5th, 2012
02:22 AM ET

Letters to the President #1202: 'Talking to the troops'

Reporter's Note: President Obama gets a letter from me every day. Even on Saturdays.

Dear Mr. President,

Your Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta, did two things this week that really got under my skin.

First, he sat around after the big correspondents’ dinner making happy talk with George Clooney and Steven Spielberg. Nothing wrong with that, per se, but did he ever think that maybe the rest of us would have liked a seat at that table for a while? (Uh…not that it would have happened. I mean, I’m pretty sure if I sat down the two of them would split, but just saying…)

And second, he lectured our troops on their conduct. Now, perhaps you’re asking yourself, “What can possibly be wrong with that? He’s the Secretary of Defense for crying out loud!” Good point. Of course he has the right and responsibility to deliver such messages when appropriate.

Still, he acknowledged in his speech that the vast number of our troops conduct themselves in a professional way. He’s right, and that is the problem. I always get steamed when bosses lecture the whole office over some ill-considered behavior by a few workers. To my mind, they should go after the misbehavers and frankly the only thing the rest of us should be hearing is thanks and congratulations for doing the right thing.

Think about it. How would you feel, back in your Senate days, if one Senator was arrested for accepting bribes, and all of you who did not were then forced to sit and listen to the FBI director ranting over the problems of graft and corruption? It would be a waste of your time, an insult to your character, and frankly I could not fault you if you walked out.

I think when bosses make all of their good employees endure such dressing-downs, they are simply avoiding their own responsibility. We can all read the news. Most of us know what is right and wrong. Bosses ought to spend their time taking on those who have done something improper, and leave the rest of us alone. We’ll get the message just the same, without being treated as if we are children.

Just an idea.