Note: This discussion is cross posted from my other blog, Nonprofit Update because it provides a live-action illustration of rationalization. Auditors study the concept of rationalization because that is a factor we consider when thinking through fraud risk assessment during an audit. Part 2 of this series is cross posted here. Exercise for CPAs is to read these two posts, then identify multiple points where the rationalization thought process transforms inappropriate actions into acceptable behavior.
It is taking more and more time to keep up with the political and public health leaders who don’t bother to comply with the recommendations they give us.
This time it is Dr. Deborah Birx who blew off the travel restrictions and gathering size limits at Thanksgiving. Oh, pardon me. It doesn’t count as a Thanksgiving trip since she traveled to her destination the day after Thanksgiving.
Saddest part of this example of hypocrisy is it took place after a large volume of other supposed leaders drew massive criticism for ignoring the rules. It isn’t as if every political and public health leader hasn’t been given notice their behavior is being observed.
Scariest part is her rationalization that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the trip.
Last point in this discussion is the wish that every American had the same freedom she has exercised. Specifically, the freedom to make our own decisions on what is best for our family given our circumstances.
12/20/20 – Associated Press – Birx travels, family visits highlight pandemic safety perils – The day after Thanksgiving, Dr Deborah Birx, coordinator for the official White House coronavirus response team, traveled from her D.C. home to her vacation home in Delaware. Joining her in Delaware were her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren. While in Delaware they ate meals together for two days.
She and her husband live in a home in the District of Columbia. She owns a home in Potomac, Maryland. Her daughter and family along with her elderly parents live in that home. The home in Delaware is referred to in press reports as one of her vacation homes. That means she owns at least four homes.
A regular visitor to the Potomac home is the grandkid’s other grandmother, who provides childcare on a regular basis. That grandma lives in Baltimore with her 92-year-old husband, who has health issues according to several media reports.
By my count that puts at least six people at the Delaware home on Thanksgiving weekend. Multiple other press reports indicate this counts as three households, but I’m not quite sure how that count derives.
While in Delaware, she gave an interview to “Face the Nation” in which she criticized as a mistake for some Americans travelling over the Thanksgiving weekend. In order to accurately highlight the hypocrisy, I will quote her. In the interview, she said some
“…people may have made mistakes over the Thanksgiving time period…”
“…went across the country or even into the next state…”
She was “deeply worried” about a post-Thanksgiving surge of infection due to travel and spending time with extended family.
CDC advised Americans not to travel over the holidays. They advised not to have gatherings with different households. They stated that a child returning from college should be considered a different household.
Advice from the coronavirus task force was to avoid travel and gathering over the Thanksgiving holiday.
In her interview Dr. Birx criticized people who traveled or spent time with people outside their household. She advised anyone who did so to consider themselves infected.
So, what did she do over the Thanksgiving weekend?
…Across state lines. (a “mistake” according to her interview) ((actually D.C. to Delaware is two state lines.)
…Gathering with at least four people not in her household, from either one or two other households.
So, that means she did not follow the guidelines.
Behold the power of rationalization
She did not go to her Delaware vacation home with extended family for a celebration of Thanksgiving.
She went there to winterize the home in anticipation of a sale of the house. Presumably that means she needed two grandchildren to help with the winterization tasks.
While there of course they had to eat food. It was no Thanksgiving celebration.
Furthermore, since she is such a frequent visitor to her Potomac home where her daughter, son-in-law, two grandchildren, and parents live, she considers herself to be a member of that household. The White House even refers to her Potomac home as a “four generation” residence, meaning that Dr. Birx count as members of that household even though she and her husband don’t live there.
So the rationalization is strong enough that Dr. Birx is comfortable traveling two states away, over the Thanksgiving weekend, gathering with multiple people outside her household, and dining with them.
So we are left considering whether Dr. Birx, along with a host of political leaders and health care officials, either do not consider the pandemic to be a serious threat to health or are exempt from the rules that us common peasants and serfs are required to follow.
With the volume of rationalization involved I think the best categorization is she believes the rules don’t apply to her.
Another flaming hypocrite.
I’m guessing there will be millions of people winterizing their home on Christmas day with so much work to do they need assistance from a host of friends and family.
Freedom to make your own risk assessment
Another fascinating aspect is what I would consider poor risk assessment. That is my opinion.
She has exercised the freedom she has as a senior federal public health official to make her own risk assessment. That is a freedom you and I no longer have.
Consider the risk factors:
- Her parents live in the Potomac house. Dr. Birx was born 4/4/56, which means she is 64 years old. That suggests her parents are in their mid or late 80s. (Supporting the rationalization in play, the Wikipedia article says she lives with her parents and daughter’s family.)
- The other grandma, who provides regular child care to the daughter’s family, is married to a guy who is 92 years old and reportedly has some health issues, type unidentified. That suggests the other grandma is in her late 80s or very early 90s.
- Dr. Birx routinely is travelling around the country because of her work responsibilities. She is also visiting her daughter and grandchildren in the Potomac home on a regular basis.
Seems to me any risk assessment would have to take into consideration her high risk of infection due to her travel which creates a far above average risk of infecting her parents in their 80s and the other grandparents who are in their 90s, with the other grandfather having existing health issues putting him at compound risk.
So let’s consider this in terms of risk assessment decisions.
She is a medical doctor, who has spent her career studying infectious disease and has concentrated on COVID-19 for the last year. She travels a lot and has close contact with her parents and routine indirect contact with the other grandparents.
By her actions and her statements, she obviously does not consider there to be any unreasonable risk to her elderly parents or the other elderly grandparents who are routinely in her grandkid’s life.
That is a considered risk assessment that she has the ability to evaluate. She has made her decision.
Oh how I wish that every American had the freedom to make their own decisions on what is acceptable for their family. Alas, you and I no longer have that freedom.