What Americans should demand from their governments at all levels is accountability. Accountability is far more important than transparency, which can be easily faked.
Accountability is not complicated. It simply means people must take responsibility for their actions. If the actions are successful, take responsibility; if they are a failure, take responsibility. This principle applies daily to Americans in their private lives. It is the heart of the tort system. If we wrongly injure someone, we are held accountable.
Of all the sins one might list of the Bush administration, failure to be accountable is the worst. As a justification to go to war, the Bush administration insisted that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. It did not. The Bush people insisted Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaida. There were none. They insisted Iraq was a threat to its neighbors. It was not, as all of its neighbors publicly said.
So, obviously, it was a case of lies or blunders — take your pick. In either event, people should have been held accountable for misinforming the American public and going to war on false pretenses. Not one single person, not a clerk or messenger or janitor even, has been held accountable. In fact, the people who made the blunders or told the lies have all been rewarded with promotions or medals.
This stone-cold refusal to admit mistakes and to be held accountable is what gives the Bush administration the eerie atmosphere of being totally disconnected from reality. Whatever President Bush says or does is always correct and successful, no matter how copious is the evidence to the contrary. Members of the administration just don’t talk about the weapons or the ties to al-Qaida anymore. You must be mistaken, they say. We went to war because we love the Iraqi people so much, we wanted them to have a democratic government.
Excuse me. You want me to believe that you love a people — who for 13 years we bombed and impoverished with sanctions — so much that you will gladly spend 2,000 American lives to relieve them of a dictator the U.S. once supported? This is insane. The very gas attack against the Kurds that Bush so often trotted out in the buildup to war was defended and in fact blamed on the Iranians by an official U.S. investigation at the time it happened.
I can live with crooks. I can live with differences of opinion and of politics. After all, those are parts of a democratic society. But the Bush administration scares me because it seems on its face irrational. That’s a fancy word for crazy. The world is too dangerous for us to have a president who seems unable to connect to reality and who surrounds himself with people whose chief qualification is that they agree with whatever he says.
I think there might be an arrogance gene in the Bush family. His father might well have been re-elected if he had gone to the American people, apologized for breaking his promise that he would veto any new taxes and explained why he thought it was necessary to do so. But, no. It was "read my hips" as he stalked away from reporters. Apparently, in the Bush family’s eyes, it is impossible for anybody named Bush to make a mistake, tell a lie or do anything wrong.
Of course, in fairness, most American politicians refuse to be accountable. Members of Congress in particular will pass bad laws and then act as if they had been sneaked onto the books by Martians in the dead of night. I’ve been an observer and a participant in politics for a number of decades, and I honestly cannot recall a single politician ever saying: "You remember when I said such and such? Well, I was wrong, and I’m sorry."
But politicians don’t take responsibility because the American people and the media don’t demand it of them. If the American voters continue to act like ignorant sheep and the media continue to concentrate on trivia, you can’t blame the politicians for taking advantage of them. As an outlaw said in an old cowboy movie: "It may even be sacrilegious (not to rob the villagers). If God did not want them sheared, why did he make them sheep?"
Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2005 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.