Wednesday, January 5, 2011
If All Government Operated This Way Accountability, at least most of the time, is sure and swift in the United States military. Just ask Captain Owen Honors, who has been sacked as the C.O. of one of the U.S. Navy's most prestigious sea commands. By now most everyone has heard the story of how Honors, as the then-Executive Officer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, hosted racy videos with homophobic, sexual and other offensive content that were broadcast during "movie nights" on the big aircraft carrier. He subsequently became the Commanding Officer of the Enterprise, the videos came to light and his career is as ruined as it would have been if he had run his ship aground in San Francisco bay. The certainty of consequences for bad behavior or unethical conduct is one of the reasons that order, morale and effectiveness remain as high as they do in our all-volunteer military, while at the same time two wars and countless deployments have made military life incredibly difficult for thousands of young American men and women. As I read about the Captain's truly silly behavior - and, yes, I admit to finding the videos on YouTube and did take a look - I thought about the relative lack of accountability for bad behavior or performance on the civilian side of our government. It is a truly bipartisan problem. Take your pick: the Treasury Secretary's failure to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes, various senators in both parties with ethical problems ranging from sweetheart home loans to sexual peccadilloes, heck even a former New York governor now has a prime time show on cable while the documentary about his frequent visits with prostitutes runs in theaters. Closer to home, a sitting Idaho state representative remains dogged by his tax problems and an Idaho tax commissioner operates under an ethical cloud. Some might argue that the standards applied to the Captain of the Enterprise are a little harsh give the frat boy nature of his offense. Still, the Navy's top brass demanded accountability - and swiftly - and not for the first time. When the Captain's boss "lost confidence" in him, he walked the plank - immediately. Admiral John Harvey, in announcing that the can was tied to the Enterprise's video host, talked about the Navy's determination to maintain its values of "honor, courage and commitment." Officers, Admiral Harvey said, simply must be held to the highest standards. The military code of conduct system demands it. End of story. In the wake of his own bad behavior, Eliot Spitzer got his own television show. Increasingly, it seems, the American political system allows that sort of "accountability." Little wonder then why the American public gives the military high approval ratings, while the public approval of Congress and other governmental institutions sinks to all-time lows. No accountability, no confidence.