Congressman Steny Hoyer, D-Md., wants to make some changes to promote trust in government. It's a good idea, but his changes - which mostly have to do with campaign finance and a laundry list of things Democrats have been trying to do for a while anyway - aren't likely to accomplish much. The truth is, if you want trust, you need to be trustworthy, and you need to show it.
On the trustworthiness front, Hoyer's already lost the battle. He, like the rest of his party, will be supporting Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, and she's one of the least-trusted figures in politics. In the wake of her email scandals, 66% of voters say she's not honest and trustworthy, and even a third of Democrats feel that way.
Add to this the Clinton Foundation's shady goings-on, the Clintons' famous parsing of the meaning of "is,"and Hillary's tendency to accuse anyone disagreeing with her of being part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy," and you don't exactly have the poster-candidate for restoring trust. (This would be a huge opportunity for the GOP, if Donald Trump didn't poll just as badly.)
But if you think promoting trust in government is important, you should nominate someone trustworthy. But there are other priorities, apparently, and they outweigh that trustworthiness, or we'd have different nominees.
The other way you promote trust is through transparency and accountability. Voters should be able to tell what politicians and bureaucrats are doing, and when those politicians and bureaucrats do wrong they should face real consequences. We're not doing very well on that front either.
One of the first signs that we were going to have problems with accountability in the Obama Administration was the firing of Inspector General Gerald Walpin in 2009. Walpin was investigating misuse of funds in Americorps. His investigation centered on NBA star, Sacramento mayor, and prominent Obama supporter Kevin Johnson, who had gotten $847,673 in federal money for a school called St. Hope.
The problem is, the money didn't go to the school, and Johnson also was using Americorps workers as, essentially, personal servants: "driving [Johnson] to personal appointments, washing his car and running personal errands."
Walpin recommended that Johnson and the St. Hope school be barred from receiving future federal funds. When, under pressure, Walpin refused to change his recommendation, he got a call from a White House lawyer telling him that he was fired. Walpin died recently, struck by a car as he crossed a street in New York City.
Likewise, Democrats have attacked an IRS watchdog, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, for investigating the IRS's abuses of Tea Party-linked groups. And the Homeland Security Inspector General's office was charged with whitewashing reports of Secret Service and other federal law enforcement officials patronizing prostitutes in Cartagena, Colombia in connection with a visit by President Obama.
If Hoyer cared about trustworthiness, he'd back stronger protections for Inspectors General, instead of going along with the Obama administration's (successful) efforts to weaken them.
And even when people are caught doing wrong, there aren't consequences. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper faced no consequences for lying to Congress about spy programs. Hillary Clinton wasn't prosecuted for her handling of email and for running an illegal private server, leading even Maureen Dowd to comment, "If she were still at the State Department, she could be getting fired for being, as the F.B.I. director told Congress, 'extremely careless' with top-secret information. Instead, she's on a glide path to a big promotion."
House Speaker Paul Ryan asked Clapper to block Hillary's access to classified information, but Clapper, having escaped consequences himself, didn't seem inclined to do anything. And, of course, all the way back at the beginning of the Obama Administration, Tim Geithner, was nominated and confirmed to be Treasury Secretary despite a history of tax-dodging. That didn't do much for trust.
So, Steny, if you want people to trust the government more, you've got a lot of work to do. And for a start, you might want to look in the mirror.