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.
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-Qaeda. 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 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 Bush says or does is always correct and successful, no matter how copious the evidence to the contrary. Members of the administration just don't talk about the weapons or the ties to al-Qaeda 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.
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 reelected 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.
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?" Indeed, why?
Charley Reese writes for King Features Syndicate, Inc.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."