Americans are both outraged and energized over headlines highlighting scandals in Washington related to the Benghazi tragedy and the IRS targeting of conservative groups. But there is a bigger concern at play in these events and it's something very few people are talking about although it underpins and links the two scandals together.
What we have identified as the “Five laws of decline” are creating systemic problems that are eroding our government and other institutions.
These five systemic problems, which include increased quantity leads to decreased quality, aren’t going to be fixed by Congressional hearings, or even heads rolling at at the Internal Revenue Service. Even if State Department, IRS, White House and other officials are held fully accountable for whatever went wrong, these five laws of decline will remain in force—and such crises will continue.
For example, just one of these systemic laws of decline is directly responsible for the IRS and Benghazi scandals.
President Obama inadvertently hinted at this problem when he vowed to hold the Internal Revenue Service accountable if reports of political targeting are proven true:
"Because the IRS as an independent agency requires absolute integrity, and people have to have confidence that they're ... applying the laws in a non-partisan way."
This quote points to a root problem. The president said that the IRS “requires absolute integrity.” This is the opposite of the American Founders view.
The framers valued integrity, but they built the Constitution to work even if the leaders had no integrity—especially in such cases, in fact.
James Madison famously said that since men aren’t angels, all government officials and agencies must be vigorously checked and balanced.
Only effective checks (not hopes of official integrity), keep government in line. The White House seems to have believed that the level of integrity from government officials at the IRS, State Department and other agencies would be enough (it is doubtful they would have afforded such trust to business leaders or taxpayers).
Nor is this a partisan issue. The current scandals seem all too familiar to those who watched the Bush White House promise that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and target key Democratic state attorneys general for unwarranted investigations.
Same story, different actors.
Executive overreach is endemic in Washington, regardless of which party is in power.
There are, put simply, too few effective checks on the sprawling executive branch with all its programs, funding, institutions and agencies. As long as they aren’t checked, we’re going to see more abuses and scandals.
The Constitution provides judicial and congressional checks on the executive branch, but they are only belatedly and timidly used anymore.
In the case of the IRS and Benghazi, it was the media that checked the Executive branch. On the one hand: good for the media. Quality journalism should be a check on government arrogance and abusive secrecy. But a functional free government can only last if its branches effectively check each other.
This isn’t so much a “conservative vs. liberal” problem as a “Washington vs. America” issue. Washington is systemically dysfunctional, the people want real progress, and partisan politics can’t provide effective solutions because the executive branch isn’t adequately checked.
Real change is going to require a new look at checks and balances, and the only real checks include a check on an agency’s ability to spend.
Even if conservatives win the day on these two scandals—if Congress fires or fines those responsible for IRS targeting and Benghazi, and sets up a system where this can never happen again (and that’s a pretty big “if”)—we’ll continue to see these kinds of crises and scandals until we understand the systemic causes and start addressing the real, underlying problems.
Orrin Woodward is co-author of "LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead" (Business Plus)
Oliver DeMille is co-author of "LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead" (Business Plus)