Accountability and the Rule of Law


There’s a reason so many of us distrust the government.

Ace has a long, very good post on the numerous ways the Obama administration has moved the goalposts on a wide range of domestic policy metrics.

Of course, the Administration’s main salutatory innovations in economic and policy matters has been to change the method by which we measure the economy and impacts of specific policies.

We used to figure out a President’s job creation number from, get this, subtracting jobs lost from jobs created, resulting in (whether positive or negative) net jobs created.

But Obama found that Old School Approach to not be accurate enough. He created a new category — Jobs Saved.

And when “Jobs Saved” turned out to not be plentiful in and of themselves, he created a new category– “Jobs Funded.” He asked employers to note when even a single dollar of government stimulus money had gone to an an employee, whether or not that employee was ever in danger of being laid off. If a single dollar of money went to that employee, then the job was considered “funded” by the government.

But that still wasn’t enough — the Department of Energy created a new metric for measuring the economic impact of stimulus spending. People who politically supported boondoggle spending on, say, Solyndra, would be credited as having been “positively impacted” by the spending.

Sure, Solyndra cost the country money in exchange for no jobs, but think about all those people “positively impacted” by the spending! They felt good about spending money on a cronyist boondoggle; and you just can’t put a price on making progressives’ erogenous zones throb with the excitement of spending other people’s money.

Of course, when we on the right criticized the movement of oversight of the Census Bureau to the White House, we were scorned as paranoids.

While the Obama administration is the most egregious example of government unworthy of trust, it certainly isn’t the only one. The very core of conservative political philosophy is the understanding that all government, at every level, and of any party or ideology, will attempt to increase its power and ultimately abuse that power. That definitionally means a decrease in liberty and freedom of the polity. As a conservative, I don’t distrust the government because it is leftist. I trust it because it is far too powerful, and far too big.

And of course, with size and power, accountability goes out the window. A great quip from Ace:

And in each case, the changes in accounting methodology prevent the whole point of accounting — accountability.

Theoretically, local government is more responsive to the public. Unfortunately, they’re also far more likely to be involved in your day to day life. And it rarely works out that those institutions have your best interest at heart. They have their own interests first and foremost.

Let’s take the example of a Pennsylvania student being bullied in school. His complaints were ignored by the school. And so, he decided to provide irrefutable proof, and recorded an encounter with his tormentors. When his mother presented the school with conclusive evidence that the school was not taking steps to ensure the safety and well-being of her son, the school did the only rational thing. They called in the police and threatened the poor victim with felony wiretapping charges. Really-

A Pennsylvania teen, who claimed to have been bullied constantly (and ignored by school administration), made an audio recording of his tormentors using a school-supplied iPad. He brought this to the school’s attention, which duly responded by calling the cops… to have him arrested for violating Pennsylvania’s wiretapping law. (h/t to Techdirt reader btr1701)

And so, here we have another example of why people do not, and should not, trust power in the hands of government. You and I and every normal person knows this is a miscarriage of justice (in the end, the boy plead to misdemeanor disorderly conduct).

When I said the school did the only rational thing, I wasn’t kidding. From the point of view of the school, concerned more with the well-being of the school than the student, calling the police was a very rational act. Faced with evidence that, in our litigious society, would show the school was negligent, they neutered that threat by turning the victim of the school’s inaction into a criminal. For the police, it was entirely rational. Under the laws of Pennsylvania, there was more than sufficient probable cause to charge him with wiretapping. And for the prosecution, why not? Felony wiretapping would be a lot of work to prosecute, but a plea bargain for disorderly conduct is bread and butter.

But you and I, I hope, see that while these actions were legal, and well within the bounds of the law, they were by no means just or moral.

And there will be no accountability. None. Oh, the family might sue, and even win. But that’s not accountability. That’s taking money from taxpayers and transferring it to the victim.

Will the principal be fired? Will the school administrators who actually drafted the school’s policy on discipline lose their jobs? Of course not. Will the police officer, who tossed common sense out the window in favor of persecution in the name of prosecution, face consequences? Of course not. Will the prosecutors face consequences? The judge who didn’t have the sense to throw out the case?

Not. One. Damn. Bit. Of. Accountability.

That is why people lose respect for the law. The vast, overwhelming majority of Americans want to respect the rule of law. But they also want the rule of law to respect them.

1 Comment

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One response to “Accountability and the Rule of Law

  1. Krag

    I have nothing pithy to add, just want to say you nailed this one. Outstanding post.

    Like