Accountability and credibility still matter

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CREDIBILITY STILL MATTER…. Clive Crook had an item the other day, in response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, which raised a point that comes up from time to time.

True, that massive deficit is largely due to the Bush tax cuts — only part of which, however, Obama intends to reverse. The tax cuts Obama intends to retain belong to him, and so does the corresponding part of the deficit. But the point is: who cares? … What does it matter who caused the problem? Obama’s job is to solve it.

I remember reading something similar a while back from The Moderate Voice:

Now, I’m just an average non-economist, but here’s how I see this: It does not matter who did what in the past…. And, of course, it’s much easier to point and blame than fix problems. [emphasis in the original]

I can see why this may have a certain, surface-level appeal for some people. Never mind what happened before; let’s just focus on problem-solving in the present and future. To look backwards, point fingers, and assign blame doesn’t get us anywhere.

But this approach is misguided in important ways. As regular readers may recall, one of my favorite scenes in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is when John Cleese’s Sir Lancelot storms a castle, sword in hand, slaughtering most of a wedding party to save a damsel in distress. The castle owner, anxious to curry favor with Lancelot, encourages the survivors of the attack to let bygones be bygones. The castle owner tells his guests, “Let’s not bicker and argue about who killed whom….”

In contemporary politics, conservatives are the castle owner, urging us not to bicker and argue about which party’s rule was nearly catastrophic for the United States. As Clive Crook put it, “Who cares? … What does it matter who caused the problem?”

Except, of course, “who did what in the past” matters very much. It’s not about “finger-pointing”; it’s about credibility. It’s about understanding that those who are responsible for creating a mess deserve to be held accountable for their failures. It’s about voters appreciating whose ideas work, whose ideas fail, and making electoral decisions accordingly.

It’s about realizing who deserves to be taken seriously and who doesn’t.

Andrew Sullivan had a good piece on this the other day.

Let me try to explain: it matters who caused the problem and why because if we do not understand the causes we cannot fix the problem and it matters because any adult judgment of a politician’s first year that does not take into account the inheritance he was bequeathed is impossible.

It matters because the most important fact in American politics is the worst presidency in modern times that preceded Obama.

Two failed, unwinnable wars that continue to destroy lives and cripple our finances, a massive splurge in entitlement and discretionary spending, a huge increase in defense spending and massive tax cuts: this we now have to forget? This context should be removed from the picture?

It matters too because the very people who gave us this mess are now adamantly refusing to do anything to get us out of it, and pledge to return to exactly the same policies that got us there in the first place: more tax cuts, more war, more entitlement spending, more debt, no health insurance reform, no action on climate change. Clive acts as if there were some viable alternative out there. There isn’t.

We have to begin to realize that accountability and credibility still matter.