A truck in Louisville sports a bumper sticker that says, "TRUST THE GOVERNMENT." To make clear the sarcastic nature of that statement the sticker also has a picture of Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Lakota chief and holy man who long and, ultimately with his life, resisted the U.S. government and its policies toward Native Americans.
The message may be getting through. Gallup recently reported that the percentages of Americans reporting a "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust and confidence in the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government were 34, 51, and 62, respectively, which are "on the lower end of what Gallup has measured historically."
Bad as they are, it is actually amazing these numbers are not worse. The long and ongoing parade of outrages perpetrated by and in the federal government undermines public trust and confidence daily.
For example, the Internal Revenue Service paid almost $3 million in bonuses to employees who had not paid their own taxes or had been cited for various forms of misconduct, including drug use, unemployment fraud, and misuse of government credit cards. The agency's union contract apparently prevents it from taking such things into consideration when paying bonuses!
This disclosure follows others that during roughly the same period the IRS spent almost $50 million on conferences, including over $4 million on a single event in California. And, of course, the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups applying for certain tax statuses and claims that it could take years to produce documents requested by congressional investigators.
Americans who recently prepared and filed burdensome tax returns and paid their income taxes should be furious, not merely distrustful! The amount of money involved in these incidents is relatively small in the context of massive federal overspending, but the principle is huge.
Sometimes the money is huge, too. Deep (161 pages) inside its financial report for fiscal year 2013 the Department for Health and Human Services revealed that it made $64.3 billion in improper Medicare and Medicaid payments. Providers are often at fault, and HHS recovers much of this money, but this single year's erroneous payments are over six times the size of Kentucky's annual budget!
The field of Health care is filled with opportunities for the federal government to forfeit the trust and confidence of its citizens. Obamacare is a particularly abundant source of situations in which Washington ignores the law while demanding that the public obey it.
A report that the Congressional Research Service recently issued shows that the Obama administration has missed myriad statutory deadlines imposed by its own signature legislative accomplishment. Jeffrey H. Anderson, executive director of the 2017 Project, a conservative reform initiative, identifies at least 25 instances where Obama failed to "fulfill the legal requirements of a law he spearheaded and signed."
This does not include the many arguably illegal changes and delays Obama made to the law by unilateral executive action. Why should anyone have trust or confidence in the federal government when it applies one set of flexible rules to itself and another set of strict rules to everybody else?
The public is rightfully distrustful when the federal government is not forthcoming about incidents in which foreign enemies kill Americans. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may bellow, "What does it matter?" but a recent Fox News poll says 60 percent of voters want Congress to keep investigating, and 61 percent say the White House is trying to cover-up the truth.
Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) recently issued a compelling list of still unanswered questions about the September 11, 2012 attack in which four Americans, including the ambassador, lost their lives.
Their questions include what the president did or who he was in contact with during the attack, why the FBI has not released its interviews of the attack survivors to Congress, why the State Department's Accountability Review Board never interviewed Clinton or her top deputies before issuing its report, and why the U.S. has not interviewed certain suspects that the media has. There are many others equally important and relevant.
Until there are answers to these questions there is no reason the public should have much trust and confidence in the federal government's response to the Benghazi tragedy. Yet top House Democrats recently derided continued inquiries as a "partisan witch hunt" and demanded an end to investigation.
A healthy skepticism about government is always appropriate. A growing distrust and lack of confidence are perhaps warranted, but can also be dangerous. If they inspire reform, fine. But if they inspire worse, as they can and might, Sitting Bull may be a more appropriate symbol that we care to acknowledge.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com.