There is a disease at the heart of American government.
Let's consider the (almost unbelievable) facts.
For a start, the revelation that AP journalists have been monitored en masse is nothing short of extraordinary. That shared phone lines would be tapped, that a multitude of journalists would have both their personal and professional phones targeted, ought to be truly shocking to all Americans. Our democracy relies upon citizens who are willing to stand in scrutiny of government. The media must be independent of intimidation, threat, or coercion. Our democracy requires these things because without media scrutiny, without questions being asked and answers being demanded, the government can get away with all sorts of malfeasance. The First Amendment is first for a reason.
Then there's the IRS scandal, in which conservative groups were discriminated against by getting special scrutiny from the feds. Though we don't yet know who authorized this systemic abuse of the tax system, or how this abuse was able to continue unchallenged for so long, we should nonetheless be deeply concerned. This is a modern heir to Nixon's enemies list. It's the most perverse qualification of free speech — a government penalization of lawful ideas due to their subjective content.
Finally, there's Benghazi. Last week, in testimony that was widely scorned as irrelevant before it even began, we learned that the Obama administration's Benghazi statements have held a far too flexible relationship with reality. Supposedly impartial intelligence community talking points somehow morphed into Obama administration messaging points. The president's truth reeks of political calculation; of a strategy designed to mitigate the domestic political fallout of a terrorist attack abroad.
Some might argue that these scandals are a combination of unfortunate but otherwise independent circumstances. I disagree.
In the case of Benghazi, the disinterest in truth is absurd and utterly inexcusable. It's obvious that our continued examination of Benghazi is necessary. But listen to the White House and you'd believe that Benghazi was old news; that just concerns are the ramblings of unstable minds.
These scandals also speak to a government bureaucracy running amok. In a Department of Justice that uses a hammer instead of a scalpel and an IRS that unjustly targets and unlawfully shares the private information of others, our public sector is in deep trouble. Where are the inspector generals? Where were the whistle-blowers? Where is the honorable leadership?
And like it or not, we are all partly to blame.
By constantly obsessing over politics rather than the health of our government, we've allowed a rot to take root in the American political system. We need to remember that without our scrutiny, without structures that restrain ill intentions and protect national imperatives, without a focus on ideals as well as political ideologies, American democracy will not sustain itself.
We need to pay closer attention to government. And we need to challenge those who say otherwise.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Here comes the Pentagon's newest space plane
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The U.S. is about to sell weapons to Vietnam. That's bad news for China.
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- Extreme haunted houses: Inside Halloween's most terrifying new trend
- Did the media get Ferguson wrong?
- The real story behind Deliver Us From Evil
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- What the Middle Ages can tell us about the GOP's big charity myth
- How did Rick Perry escape blame for the Texas Ebola outbreak?
Subscribe to the Week