One of the major failings of political accountability, in all western democracies, is the tremendous gap between legislation and enforcement. Politicians gaily introduce all sorts of laws, covering the gambit of defense contractors to abortion rights and everything in between, rarely giving any thought to the enforcement of their determinations. I would guess that the thought of whether their pet laws can actually be enforced at all, almost never crosses their minds. A travesty…..and a disgrace. As soon as their law is on the books, they think their job is done, and enforcing it is someone else’s problem. This leads to a plethora of laws that, basically, gum up the legal world, and provide a harvest bounty for the legal profession.
A law that sounds good, but that is unenforceable, achieves several goals: it makes the politician who sponsored it look good for his/her next election campaign; it raises their profile in the media; it gains the respect of at least some of their colleagues; and doesn’t actually do anything for which they might be held accountable – altogether, a politician’s dream. I have to wonder what percentage of laws on the books, in all countries and states, fall into this category. If we knew, we would probably be horrified, and fire all the politicians who sponsored them. At least we would, if we had any sense, which is debatable.
I have written before on this topic of political accountability, but I was reminded of the issue recently by some of the new anti-abortion laws that seem to growing like weeds in many U.S. state legislatures. One particular example is a law that criminalizes anyone who crosses state lines to obtain an abortion. Last time I looked, there are no barriers across interstate highways when you cross state lines, so how the hell could this be enforceable. Several states have included in these ridiculous laws a provision that anyone who helps such crossings, or even knows about them, is required to report the incidents to the police, or face criminal charges themselves – sounds like the Gestapo/Stasi to me. Apart from the obvious repressive state characteristics, these laws are totally unenforceable – you would need an army, or a Gestapo, to do that. However, these laws do directly fulfill the politician’s dream of personal aggrandizement without consequences.
How do we, as the electorate, change this fundamental flaw in our democratic system? In fact, how does anyone change what we current have into political accountability?
The politicians are certainly not going to change this situation. It’s not in their interest to do so, and it would take a fundamental change in their thinking, which is unlikely. A major lobbying force might start the process but that would take serious financial support, and I can’t see where that would come from – even a civic-minded billionaire wouldn’t have the resources it would take to achieve any progress in that direction.
Education seems like the only way….and we used to do it – it was called a “civics” course.
A national education policy is needed that obligates all students at all levels to take courses in “Civics”. The programs would include how and why government works, in a democracy. It would include a much fuller understanding of what government is about and, most importantly, the required ethics that make it function well. In that way, future politicians, and future voters, would both understand, not only the ethical behavior required of public figures, but also how a democratic government works. I would also hope that those courses in government would include an understanding that unenforceable laws are a useless contribution to society, with only the legal profession benefitting.
I realize this sounds like a pipe dream: a political system that emphasizes ethics above self-promotion; a government that designs laws, giving serious thought to enforcement; and an electorate with sufficient knowledge to understand that these attributes are essential to their well-being and the success of their communities and country. I can dream can dream of this sort of political accountability, but we seem to moving in the opposite direction.