Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is known these days for her angry "what difference does it make" retort to critics when she testified in January before the Senate about the Benghazi attack. Something else she said that day, however, may reveal more about the current state of the nation: "I take responsibility." But, as University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds noted in a recent USA Today column, taking responsibility for mistakes that led to the deaths of four Americans is not the same thing as suffering hard consequences for those mistakes.
Reynolds, who is also proprietor of the Instapundit.com blog, pointed out that "government officials are happy making and executing plans that affect the lives of millions, but when things go wrong, well ... they're willing to accept the responsibility, but they're not willing to take the blame. What's the difference? People who are to blame lose their jobs. People who are 'responsible,' do not. The blame, such as it is, winds up deflected on to The System, or something else suitably abstract."
As a result of Benghazi, Clinton has suffered marginally in the opinion polls tracking the 2016 Democratic presidential race, and she may not fare too well when future historians take stock of her performance as America's chief diplomat. That said, the consequences to Clinton for Benghazi have been minimal to date and she is far from alone among the country's Teflon political class.
Consider the IRS scandal in which it has become obvious that the tax agency has for years targeted conservative, evangelical and pro-Israel nonprofit status applicants for illegal harassment. Lois Lerner, the IRS executive most directly responsible, has been put on administrative leave, but she's still drawing a fat paycheck. And nothing remotely like a painful consequence has been imposed on Donald L. Shulman, who was IRS commissioner when most of the harassment took place.
Or consider Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki. When appointed by President Obama in 2009, Shinseki vowed to eliminate VA's massive backlog of unprocessed disability benefits claims. Five years later, thousands of veterans are still forced to wait years before their claims are resolved, but Shinseki remains on the job. Similarly, former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu was responsible for decisions in which billions of tax dollars were invested in renewable energy boondoggles like Solyndra. He resigned earlier this year, but his departure was as he had long planned, not as a consequence for throwing billions of tax dollars down renewable energy rat-holes dug by Obama campaign donors.
Then there are Jeffrey Neely of Las Vegas hot tub fame and former Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., tweeter of pornographic self-portraits. Neely, then a regional administrator for the General Services Administration, became the poster boy for outrageously wasteful federal employee conference spending thanks to a photo of him sipping champagne in a Vegas hotel suite. He retired with a full federal civil service pension and its generous benefits. As for Weiner, he may be the next mayor of New York. Could it be that Washington's culture of responsibility without consequences is partly why the government continues to stumble from crisis to crisis?