Gary Horton | America Needs a Return to Accountability

Gary Horton

Our precocious granddaughter visited us this weekend. Kind of a grandmother-granddaughter playdate; I got to play the supporting role in providing the pizza and occasionally chiming in.

During lunch with said pizza, granddaughter decided to make up a game of sorts, skipping through the kitchen sing-songing, “Tell me why I’m not responsible for doing my homework.” “Tell me why I’m not responsible for….” On she went. Emma was having fun, flipping reason on its head about why she shouldn’t be responsible for all the things 10-year-olds are tasked.

Grumpy, staid grandpa wasn’t going to leave the lid on that jar open: “Emma, you’re responsible for just about everything you do or don’t do or say or don’t say.” Stodgy grandpa took the time to spell it out: “We’re all on the hook in life for what we do and the consequences thereof.”

At least, that’s the way I was taught how things worked, or were supposed to work.

Over time, it seems “accountability” has become a mushy word. A word that can be avoided with quick side-step excuses. A word, once rigid, is now Gumby. We used to be accountable for unauthorized hands in life’s unauthorized cookie jars. Now, “because, cookies” is sufficient excuse enough. “It’s not my fault I went for the cookies.”

This past week, newish member of Congress, Lauren Boebert, got caught with her hands down a “cookie jar” of sorts. Thrown out of a live performance of ‘Beetlejuice,” first she denied vaping, then denied disorderly conduct, denied indecent sexual conduct, and then finally admitted, after security camera tapes graphically revealed, she was going to town on her date that night – right in the theater, right next to fellow theatergoers. This conduct was literally criminal, but hey, “cookies.”

After the security tape rolled, apologies looking more like juvenile excuses were begrudgingly mouthed. She’d gone through a tough divorce. It had been 20 years since she’d last been on the dating scene. She’s under stress. Ms. Boebert sounds like my granddaughter singing, “Tell me why I’m not responsible for…”

But reality is, Rep. Boebert performed indecent sexual acts in public. She vaped who knows what in a theater. She caused a scene so crazy, she was escorted out of the theater, flipping off security on the way out. 

Good grief. And folks like these have particularly strong sway in Congress these days?

Twenty years ago, this trick would have been a quick trip to resignation – and a misdemeanor or felony charge. Crazy unleashed behavior in a public theater by a representative of the United States of America? 

Recall in more circumspect days, Sen. Al Franken resigned over a single sexually comedic photograph from a decade prior. Katie Hill resigned over photos leaked by her husband and for having an affair with a subordinate. Politicians used to take more accountability for their actions.

Donald Trump changed all this. “Never admit wrong.” Trump never apologizes. Nothing is ever wrong. No deed is a misdeed. Even phone calls to threaten / bribe / beg Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” 11,780 votes was a “perfect phone call.” Trump set new lows for non-accountability, and his standards and his conduct have become de rigueur and the norm.

But let’s be honest and be bipartisan. This abuse of power and non-accountability has infected all our national politics. Last week Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez sidestepped federal bribery charges, calling them a “witch hunt.” Menendez won’t step down. The $480,000 in cash sewn into clothing, gold bars, and Mercedes Benzes were just how he lives. Menendez called the charges “an active smear campaign.” 

It’s always a “witch hunt” these days when politicians are caught with hands in cookie jars. It’s always some other side’s fault there’s unaccounted hundreds of thousands hidden, sewn, stashed all around. “Smear campaigns.” “Witch hunts.”

Let’s not pass over America’s greatest walking, talking, lying machine, Republican Rep. George Santos, who’s lied about more things than the rest of us have been honest. Fake real estate empires, careers, relationships, drag queen history – you name it, Santos has lied it. Yet Santos remains, making decisive votes under Keven McCarthy’s speakership.

We’ve been numbed into accepting all this irresponsibility. Irresponsibility is normalized. Conditioned by Trump’s decades-long antics, lies, fails, swindles – our entire electorate seems little swayed or dismayed by conduct fails of almost any degree.

How on Earth can we expect good governance when we suffer these unprincipled folks to lead? They can’t manage their own lives; how can they manage the nation’s business?

“Tell me why I’m not responsible for…” my granddaughter jokes. At age 10, Emma thankfully understands responsibility and accountability. These are easy, basic life principles.

But for politicians, who’s at fault when fingers get caught? The Capitol Police, Justice Department, prosecutors, public servants, military leaders, lawfully elected officials – everyone and everything but the guys with melted chocolate chips all over their hands.

And we’ll reap what we sow by tolerating all this current nonsense.

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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