America’s crisis of accountability

Our nation is suffering a crisis of accountability.

My first job after law school was working for a talented criminal lawyer named Andy. He loved the rough and tumble of trials, and handled appeals with equal aplomb. He once told me that, in his experience, criminals had changed for the worse. When he interviewed appellate clients early in his career, their story was generally, “I took a chance, I did the crime and I got caught.” Later, he mused, their story degenerated into, “I had a lousy trial lawyer,” or “The judge hated me,” or “The jurors were all morons.” In short, it was everyone’s fault but their own.

Refusal to be accountable for one’s own actions isn’t limited to the criminal element. This disease has since pervaded society as a whole.

Although we’ve seen minor signs pop up here and there in the last 30 years, the first major outbreak occurred in 1994 with the case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants. This was the infamous hot coffee lawsuit in which the jury awarded the plaintiff $160,000 in compensatory damages, and $2.7 million in punitive damages because the restaurant neglected to warn her that her coffee was hot. As a result, each McDonald’s coffee cup now includes a caution (which no one reads) advising consumers that their coffee may be hot.

Since the Liebeck case, we’ve been inundated with every cockamamie cause of action imaginable, each having several things in common. They clog the legal system, increase insurance costs and are based on unaccountability for one’s own behavior. Criminals are now suing their victims.

The media isn’t immune from unaccountability. It owes the public a duty to report the truth, simply and unvarnished by personal prejudice or opinion. Instead, the network news has become a cheering section for the Obama administration, and once-respected newspapers like The New York Times have descended into something no self-respecting parakeet would allow to line its cage.

Those holding public office owe a particular responsibility to their constituents. They have a fiduciary duty to spend taxpayer funds prudently, and to enact laws wisely, after spirited debate and careful deliberation. Instead, they spend money they don’t have, vote on bills they’ve never read and exempt themselves from the very laws they enact. This really hit home last week when we discovered that members of Congress are immune from insider trading penalties, profiting themselves enormously in the process. When CBS’ Steve Kroft questioned House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., about profits she derived from insider trading, she chose to lie about it. He knew she lied. She knew he knew she lied. What’s more, we knew she knew he knew she lied.

It’s reached the point where some politicians can’t fathom honor and fidelity in others. Recently, Pelosi said she didn’t understand “this conscience thing” that Catholics have, and that they really need to overcome it. “Conscience thing”? Maybe those without it can’t understand it.

The Occupy Wall Street movement was inevitable. Following the government’s lead, its demonstrators incurred massive debt, to pay for a substandard education in a useless field of study. Like today’s crop of personal injury plaintiffs, they expect to be offered a six-figure salary, a corner office and use of a company BMW. Mimicking the liberal mainstream media, they blame the current state of affairs on “John Galt,” America’s entrepreneurs, the creators of the jobs they claim to want.

Our nation is suffering a crisis of accountability.


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