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Crucified by Government

Washington plays by TSA rules.

May 14, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 33 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Government, and the party of government, have been through something of a rough patch lately. First, there was the GSA’s Las Vegas blowout. Then, the Secret Service debaucheries. And, two weeks ago, the video of an Environmental Protection Agency bureaucrat preening about his enforcement strategy of “crucifying” five random oil drillers pour encourager les autres.

Photo of Al Armendariz

The EPA’s Al Armendariz, now retired

Then, to provide theme for the pudding, there was a Pew survey revealing that “just one in three [Americans] has a favorable view of the federal government—the lowest level in 15 years.”

Proving, perhaps, that 33 percent of Americans have not flown commercial for some time.

A measure of dissatisfaction with the government, these days, is to be expected. The country is, after all, in the economic doldrums with another summer of recovery on the verge of being postponed until next summer. Unemployment is high and so is the price of gas. GDP growth is low and so are wages. People blame government, and that might be unfair, except that those in charge of government promised something else and do not seem to be able to deliver or, worse, to admit that they can’t.

Which is the larger problem, as well, with the various scandals. While some people at the GSA and the Secret Service have been fired, the overall response of those in charge has been to insist that these were the actions of a few rogue operators, that the enterprise as a whole is first rate, staffed by people who are loyal, conscientious, dedicated, honest, etc. And to make the argument somewhat indignantly.

In the case of that EPA tough guy, he resigned after issuing one of those apologies that evoke Chesterton’s comment about how the “stiff apology is a second insult.”

The EPA followed up the resignation with a statement exonerating itself of everything and anything, saying it was “deeply unfortunate” that the crucifixion talk by “an EPA official inaccurately suggests we are seeking to ‘make examples’ out of certain companies in the oil and gas industry.”

The very idea!

Instead of being allowed to resign, that regional administrator for random persecutions and crucifixions should have been sent out into the oil patch and made to wear steel-toed boots, Carhartt overalls, and a hardhat while he did a month as a roughneck on a drilling rig, just to get a feel for the industry. Now he is gone, and nothing much will change, except the EPA might issue a directive to its administrators advising them that the crucifixion of oil drillers is strictly against agency policy and anyone violating this rule should expect to be sternly disciplined.

To the various agencies of the government, any embarrassing event is an “isolated example that in no way .  .  . ” The Transportation Security Administration is hit with one of those just about every day and its spokespeople routinely issue a pro-forma denial or apology, along with a statement defending the agency’s policies and procedures. It is their way of reminding the public that if they don’t like it, then they can take the bus to Cleveland, or wherever it is they want to go.

We won’t be hearing about a housecleaning at the GSA or the Secret Service, the TSA or the EPA. There is no need for one according to .  .  . the GSA, the Secret Service, the TSA, and the EPA. If the people are unhappy with the government, then the attitude of the government seems to be that it is the fault of the people. And since the people don’t seem angry enough to get themselves a new government, there is nothing much to worry about and no need to take action.

For more and more people, their direct experience with government would incline them to believe that the examples of profligacy and arrogance we’ve seen lately are more rule than exception. One day, perhaps, a president will be elected who remembers being crucified by some bureaucrat who wanted to make an example of him. Then he can appoint a cabinet of people who will go out into the bowels of Leviathan and randomly fire five people in their respective agencies just to get the attention of the other bureaucrats who have become accustomed to a life of routine arrogance and perpetual immunity.

Until then, the game will continue to be played by TSA rules.

Geoffrey Norman is a writer in Vermont.

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