The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Victor Davis Hansen is a historian and a keen observer of American politics. In a recent essay about trust in government he writes:
Transparency and truth are the fuels that run sophisticated civilizations. Without them, the state grinds to a halt. Lack of trust -- not barbarians on the frontier, global warming or cooling, or even epidemics -- doomed civilizations of the past, from imperial Rome to the former Soviet Union.
Hansen contends that all politicians bend the truth, some more than others, no doubt, but the electorate has come to expect that. But we have also come to expect that an independent, adversarial media will ferret out the truth and that permanent government agencies (e.g., the Justice Department) will work to protect the public, not elected politicians.

Under the Obama administration, those expectations have been dashed. Hansen writes:
What distinguishes democracies from tin horn dictatorships and totalitarian monstrosities are our permanent meritocratic government bureaus that remain nonpartisan and honestly report the truth.

The Benghazi, Associated Press and National Security Agency scandals are scary, but not as disturbing as growing doubts about the honesty of permanent government itself.

It is no longer crackpot to doubt the once impeccable and nonpartisan IRS. When it assured the public that it was not making decisions about tax-exempt status based on politics, it lied. One of its top commissioners, Lois Lerner, resigned and invoked the Fifth Amendment.

A system of voluntary tax reporting rests on trust. If the IRS itself is untruthful, will it be able to expect truthful compliance from taxpayers?

Many doubt the officially reported government unemployment rates. That statistic is vital in assessing economic growth and is of enormous political importance in the way citizens vote.

It was reported in November that the Census Bureau may have fabricated survey results during the 2012 presidential campaign, sending false data to the Labor Department that could have altered official employment statistics.
Indeed, almost no objective observer believes the Obamacare enrollment numbers that have been announced by Health and Human Services. Why is that?

I think the answer lies in the clear perception that data are withheld purposely for partisan political gain, data are messaged dishonestly to put the best possible spin on bad news, data are "unavailable" when any reasonable person knows that simply can't be true in an era of websites with instantaneous data collection and reporting.

Consider the public reaction to the NSA metadata collection revelations. Most knowledgeable observers clearly understand that the NSA was collecting communications metadata in an effort to ferret out terrorist activity—to connect the dots. Most knowledgeable observers recognize that our spy agencies do, in fact, look hard at foreign governments, their leaders and their institutions. Anyone who expresses shock at these activities is either woefully ignorant or supremely disingenuous.

But yet, even knowledgeable observers, myself included, feel uneasy about these revelations. Why? Because we no longer trust the government to police itself, and we certainly don't trust this administration to do the right thing. Once independent government agencies (e.g., the IRS) are co-opted by the administration in power and act as political weapons for that administration, it's reasonable to expect that NSA metadata might also be mined by that administration for political purposes. If it happened at the IRS (and it DID happen at the IRS), it could also happen at the NSA. Hence, a feeling of unease—a breakdown in trust.

Sadly, that may be one of a number of negative legacies left by the Obama administration once it leaves the scene in two and half years. And that is nothing to be proud of.