Virtual Voices
Rep. Jeff Miller questions Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Associated Press/Photo by Susan Walsh
Rep. Jeff Miller questions Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel last Wednesday on Capitol Hill.

This age of distrust

Government

Trust and trustworthiness. From marriage to business, life is much the worse without them. But our political system seems to be founded on distrust. Our leaders must seek reelection from time to time and we restrict them with constitutional limits and institutional checks. But government cannot operate the way it should without the grease of trust. Sadly, there is little of it in D.C. these days.

Consider this exchange between Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel over the status of recently freed POW Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl:

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Under ordinary circumstances, Hagel’s indignation would be justified. If the secretary of defense tells you a soldier isn’t medically stable enough to return to the United States from a base in Germany, you take his word for it. What Hagel said about the effects of five years in captivity under the Taliban seemed plausible but confusing. If Bergdahl can survive a flight to Germany, why not a flight to America? If he can be treated on an U.S. base in Germany, why not in a facility here? But you trust this high-level public servant and overlook these oddities.

But we are not in ordinary circumstances. The Obama administration demonstrated contempt for Congress, withholding legally required information and lying to senators in both parties. The entire operation has been shrouded in secrecy and obscured with changing and contradictory stories along these lines:

We did tell you. We didn’t need to tell you. We couldn’t tell you because the lad’s health required fast action. Yes, 80 to 90 people in the administration knew about what was going on, and we were working on 6-month-old reports of his health.

OK, but the real reason was that, if word got out, some of his captors may have killed him. True, what Talib would object to such a generous deal? And again there are those 80 to 90 executive branch people who were in the know.Yes, yes, it’s true that the chairmen of the intelligence and armed services committees are reliably discreet enough to have held the bin Laden raid information secret for months.

So you can understand why members of Congress would be ungenerous when faced with anything that smells fishy and looks like a cover-up. In this context, Hagel’s “how dare you” seems itself a technique of obfuscation. Polls tell us that the American people are growing just as skeptical.

The day after Rep. Miller challenged Hagel on this point, Defense announced that Sgt. Bergdahl was on his way back to the United States. A coincidence? It so happens it was the medically appropriate time? One would normally assume. But deceit destroys trust.

You know the old joke, “How do you know when a politician is lying? Answer: His lips are moving.” In the Soviet Union, that was simply true of their leaders and everyone knew it. In our country, it’s a caricature. As it becomes less so, we face a deepening national political crisis.

The defense of liberty in this situation has three steps. First, education. People must inform themselves. Second, engagement. People must get involved, not withdraw cynically. Finally, elections. Replace the self-servers with thoroughly and soberly scrutinized public servants. Repeat incessantly.

D.C. Innes
D.C. Innes

D.C. is associate professor of politics at The King's College in New York City and co-author of Left, Right, and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics (Russell Media). Follow D.C. on Twitter @DCInnes1.

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