Eric Holder and the Fantasy of "Accountable Government"

Attorney General Eric Holder spent the day testifying before the House Oversight Committee on Thursday.  It was a rowdy affair.  Committee Democrats spent most of their time trying to derail the hearing or turn it into a circus, as when Representative Judy Chu (D-CA) congratulated Holder, the man who quashed investigation into Black Panther voter intimidation, for his work on behalf of “voter’s rights.”  Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) made a bizarre, but spirited, effort to work “white supremacists” into the discussion of Operation Fast and Furious, in which Holder’s Justice Department pushed American guns across the border into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.  Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee (D-TX) did a lot of shouting, but couldn’t quite remember the name of slain U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry.

Very little of substance was learned – Holder is still as inscrutable as the statues of Easter Island, and steadfastly maintained that “taking responsibility” does not involve anyone in his department losing their jobs – but there was some great theater.  Meanwhile, the hundreds of victims killed by Fast and Furious guns remain dead, and the Brian Terry case remains under impenetrable government seal.  Holder was so evasive and uncooperative that Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) described him as a “hostile witness.”

Perhaps the key exchange of the afternoon came when Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) tore into Holder for the rather amazing lack of communication that ostensibly plagues the Obama Administration.  Holder claims he doesn’t read his briefings, and therefore had no idea what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was up to while Operation Fast and Furious was in effect.  Furthermore, Holder told Chaffetz that after becoming aware of the problem, he did not discuss the “gun walking” disaster with any of the following people: Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, the president of Mexico, or the attorney general of Mexico.

“You have routinely argued that you have been oblivious and disengaged in this operation,” an exasperated Chaffetz told the Attorney General, “and I buy that to a large extent.”  Nobody laughed.  In an Aaron Sorkin TV show, there would have been laughter.  Has a character as improbable as Eric Holder turned up in one of those shows yet?

“We have a dead border patrol agent,” Chaffetz continued.  “We have 2,000 missing guns.  We have 200 dead in Mexico.  We have dead government officials in Mexico.  We have a Mexican helicopter with troops in it shot – three of them are wounded – back in May of this year.  We have fifty-plus members of Congress calling for your resignation over this.  And you’ve never spoken to any one of these people about this operation?”

After some back-and-forth about how he spends his time, and the Talmudic interpretation of his department’s press releases, Holder finally told Chaffetz, “You don’t understand how Washington works.

And there you have it, folks.  This is all about the way “Washington works.”

Nobody talks to anybody.  Nobody reads their email.  No one admits to anything.  All the records are redacted and sealed.  And most significantly in light of Holder’s testimony today, even the most cosmic levels of failure don’t necessarily mean anyone loses their jobs.  For that matter, Operation Fast and Furious was a vast expansion of an earlier program from the Bush era, Operation Wide Receiver, which featured far more serious attempts at tracking the “walked” guns – they were actually fitted with miniature radio transmitters, which the drug cartels figured out how to defeat.

And yet, these are the people who want to run our health care.  These are the people who claim they can protect us from the rapacious appetites of capitalism.  Even as Holder was testifying, elsewhere on Capitol Hill, the former Democrat senator and governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine, was taking the Fifth when asked why he blatantly violated financial regulations he helped to write.

Every politician swears his tireless devotion to “accountability.”  All of them promise to cut “waste, fraud, and abuse.”  But accountability simply does not, and never will, mean the same thing to politicians that it does to the rest of us.  Government holds private citizens and organizations strictly accountable for misdeeds, from outright fraud to improperly filed paperwork, but the government will never hold itself accountable with the same intensity.  That’s not a matter of partisan politics.  It’s built right into the concept of Big Government, almost by definition.  Who watches the watchmen?

Leaving aside the body count of Operation Fast and Furious, a private organization running huge programs with comparable degrees of failure would face the music from its customers and shareholders if the government didn’t get them first… and woe to any CEO who tried Eric Holder’s lame excuses on federal investigators. 

Politicians repeatedly sell us the chimerical promise of a government that can be held “accountable” in a way that is even remotely comparable to the way citizens are held responsible.  When oversight hearings degenerate into a circus, Big Government and its media worshippers grin and tell us we can always hold congressional clowns accountable at the ballot box… in a couple of years.  Assuming they don’t come from safe seats, and local voters aren’t so gorged on pork-barrel spending that they don’t much care about the stupid things said in Capitol Hill hearing rooms.

It’s not good enough.  It will never be good enough.  The political class promises us that it can be entrusted with control of our lives, and claim they’re a far safer bet than “taking our chances” with the private sector.  Well, on Thursday that political class made an abject mockery of oversight while protecting their hides from an outrage that killed hundreds of people.  The very same munchkins were quite eager to use the very same outrage to promote gun laws that would give them even more control over our lives.  Run afoul of those laws, and you will not be allowed to defend yourself by telling Washington that it doesn’t understand how your town works.