Reviving Accountability

Brooksley Born and the Masters of the Universe

Brooksley Born and the Masters of the Universe

Both Frank Rich and Arianna Huffington spent time this week talking about a key missing ingredient in the public square: accountability. From Alan Greenspan to Karl Rove to Robert Rubin and Dick Cheney, no one is to blame for the many failures of the past decade. It wasn’t always so. John Kennedy famously told CIA spy chief Richard Bissell after the Bay of Pigs “In a parliamentary government, I’d have to resign. But in this government I can’t, so you and (CIA Director) Allen (Dulles) have to go.” There used to be an expectation that failure had consequences for those in charge, and that taking a senior job meant you could count on losing that job as part of an accountability system that ultimately protected the presidency. The zero-sum partisanship of the Clinton presidency–the “permanent campaign”–saw the beginning of the end of that system, and the last eight years cemented the death of accountability. President Bush summed it up best in arguing that the 2004 election had been an “accountability moment” and that he would consider no further questions about his Administration’s performance. The results of this approach are obvious–bad policies festered and costs mounted as internal critics were silenced in Washington (and on Wall Street) for the sake of never giving an inch to political enemies. The concept of accountability can be revived, but only if we can again understand accountability as medicine that promotes good behavior rather than a political weapon.

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