No sooner did I encourage Republicans to make accountability one of their primary campaign themes then I came across Ron Fournier at National Journal tearing into lefty Ezra Klein for arguing that accountable government is a superhero fantasy:
“Presidents consistently overpromise and underdeliver,” he begins, a fair start. Surely, the editor-in-chief of Vox is going to make the obvious point that presidents and presidential candidates should know enough about the political process (including the limits on the executive branch) to avoid such a breach of trust.
Klein is a data guy. He must know that the public’s faith in government and poltics is on a decades-long slide, a dangerous trend due in no small part to the fact that candidates make promises they know they can’t keep. In Washington, we call it pandering. In the rest of the country, it’s called a lie. Klein yawns.
Klein is basically asking us to accept all of Obama’s lies and failures because we need to understand that politicians promise a lot of stuff they can’t deliver. Presumably we’re supposed to smile and clap when a slick character like Obama does an especially good job of tricking us into believing he can deliver the moon and stars, but it’s extremely rude and unrealistic to complain when those celestial goodies aren’t delivered on schedule.
Fournier is having none of it: “A Harvard-trained lawyer and Constitutional scholar like Obama didn’t stumble into the 2008 presidential campaign unaware of the balance of powers, the polarization of politics, the right-ward march of the GOP and other structural limits on the presidency. He made those promises because he thought those goals were neither unreasonable nor unattainable. Either that, or he was lying.” He goes on to note how eagerly Klein tries to separate Obama from his promises, writing as if some non-human entity called The Obama Campaign made all those inconvenient commitments to stuff like improving the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The launch of the Affordable Care Act and the worsening of conditions at the Department of Veterans Affairs are emblematic of Obama’s inattention to the hard work of governing. He is slow to fire poor-serving Cabinet members and quick to dismiss controversies as “phony scandals.” To the Obama administration, transparency is a mere talking point. The great irony of his progressive presidency: Democrats privately admit that Obama has done as much to undermine the public’s faith in government as his GOP predecessor.
No, Barack Obama has done far more to undermine faith in government, because his tenure has been a combination of desperate power grabs, venomous divisive politics, and staggering incompetence. There’s never been a Big Government failure quite like ObamaCare, and the VA scandal is a fast-forward look at where it’s dragging the entire country. Whatever George Bush’s failings might have been, at least he had an adversarial media to contend with. Obama has been indulged by the media like a spoiled brat. Only now, five years in, are they frowning at the patent absurdity of his insulting attempt to spin away the VA scandal and realizing they’re heard it all before, time and time again, from Fast and Furious to Benghazi.
It’s not exactly new for Obama apologists to claim that running the mega-government they support is effectively impossible, a task too difficult even for the super-genius messiah they adore. Obama himself is making that argument, every time he claims he learned what his Administration is up to by reading yesterday’s newspaper. One of his efforts to avoid responsible for the ObamaCare launch debacle involved him whining that government agencies are “outdated” and “not designed properly,” which would seem difficult to square with his enthusiasm for making government ever larger. His adviser David Axelrod said Obama should be let off the hook for all responsibility in the IRS scandal because “part of being President is there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know, because the government is so vast.”
In order for Obama to save his own hide, and protect his top appointees – which is part of saving his hide, because he believes firing anyone, over anything, would make it difficult for the media to ignore his scandals to death – he’s basically making the accountability argument for Republicans. All you have to do is quote his endless evasions and childish tantrums. What good does it do the victims of bureaucracy to hear that Barack Obama’s super-angry about what happened to them, when all he does is order the offending agency to investigate itself, and maybe get back to him after the next election with the results?
It’s the Left that keeps inadvertently dropping these killer soundbites, and writing these op-ed screeds, to make the case that their beloved Big Government is inherently corrupt and out of control. They’re doing a great job of indicting their philosophy, in order to protect their heroes from consequence. They’re so wrapped up in personalized politics that they don’t realize how much their excuse-making is eroding public confidence in government. They’re essentially telling the American people that nobody will ever be held responsible for anything that goes wrong, because the system has grown so powerful that it no longer fears the wrath of its subjects.
You can’t reform a system like that by installing better leadership. It’s a little better to have Republicans at the helm, because the media hates them, and will do the kind of reporting they resolutely refuse to conduct against their beloved Barack Obama. You may rest comfortably assured that the press won’t allow President Rand Paul to drag out his problems until they can be dismissed as old news, and it won’t be outside watchdog groups using Freedom of Information Act lawsuits to chisel through any stonewalls constructed by President Ted Cruz. It’s not going to yawn and roll over if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell runs a Republican Senate the way Harry Reid currently runs the Democrat version.
But it’s not good enough to simply restore the oversight functions of the press, by electing someone they’re not in love with. The system itself has to be whittled down to size. The quest for accountability is a crusade with bipartisan appeal, because a lot of rank-and-file Democrat voters expect it too. Some of them believe in government control precisely because it thinks bureaucrats and politicians are more accountable than the robber barons of the private sector. They are hideously mistaken, and the Obama years have given us plenty of examples to prove it. Start with the VA scandal, but don’t stop there. Go through the whole sorry mess, and ask voters if they can point to a single act of genuine responsibility from Obama’s government.
Not only has it become impossible for the public to hold any high official responsible for his actions, but there’s no way to escape from the broken system. You can’t demand new management, you can’t escape from lousy “deals” that bear little resemblance to what you were promised, and you can’t stop paying for the government’s mistakes. All of this is going to get a lot worse, as the power and reach of government grows, and more of its unsustainable plans collapse.
People are suckers for Big Government because they think the bums can be thrown out of office if they mess up. The Obama years offer enduring proof that this belief is hopelessly naive. Where do you go to vote the permanent bureaucracy out of office? How do you hold a politician accountable for his errors, when he’s got an army of constituents hungry for more of the favors he dispenses?
But don’t take it from me. Just listen to the liberal politicians and pundits who are increasingly insistent that no one can be held responsible for the failures of the Leviathan State, because no hand is strong enough to hold Leviathan’s reins.