Written by Ben Resnik
On Friday, the crowd-funding website Kickstarter did something awful.
Despite being made aware of a sexual assault-promoting "pickup guide" being marketed on their site, slow-acting company policy and interior bureaucracy prevented the project from being shut down before a deadline was met that released it into the world. As a result, the abhorrent product was successfully funded, sparking outrage from every corner.
Then Kickstarter did something extraordinary" it apologized. Plainly and publicly, the organization admitted that it had done something wrong, explained the mechanisms that had allowed it to happen, and instituted immediate reforms to prevent it from happening again. They topped it off with a $25,000 donation to RAINN, a nonprofit devoted to supporting victims of rape and sexual assault. The user response was one of surprise and gratitude, of respect earned for a company that had handled its own mistakes in a mature and responsible way.
This story stands in sharp contrast to the less-than-well-handled dissembling of Director of Intelligence James Clapper, who promised at a Congressional hearing months ago that the NSA was not spying on American citizens. When confronted with his own lie after the surveillance scandal broke, he explained that he had given the "least untruthful answer" he could think of on the spot. Despite this near-admission of misleading Congress and the American people, there has been virtually no attempt by Clapper or by the government to address the untruth and the circumstances that allowed it to happen. (An inaction, by the way, that has led to us demanding some movement and accountability.)
Now as bad decisions go, Kickstarter's policy failure doesn't quite compare to obstruction of Congress. But both instances are subject to the same moral standard" Kickstarter made an unintentional mistake and owned up to it while Clapper was caught in a lie and walked away. They abdicated their principles on the public stage.
So why this upstanding honesty from Kickstarter and complete lack of scruple from Clapper and Congress? It's certainly not a question of public versus private" Enron wasn't exactly a paragon of respectability. At its most basic, in their respective missteps Kickstarter was prepared to admit fault and the government was not. This may seem self-evident, but looking at American politics through the lens of its officials choosing the inertia of a bad decision because of the fear of being blamed for a worse one explains a lot of our current dilemmas: The damage of the sequester, the horrendous inadequacy of the minimum wage, and the shameful inaction on gun control legislation all exist because those in power would rather live in a dilapidated house than admit that there are structural issues that need fixing. Where there is no movement there can be no fault, and through their practiced idleness politicians let America's situation worsen little by little.
This isn't going to solve itself. The only way to force government into admitting its own mistakes is by demonstrating that we won't stand for them. And the only way to do that is by countering their lethargy with energy" in the street, online, and in the ballot box" and the determination to demand accountability and oversight.
Ben Resnik is a communications intern at the Common Cause D.C. office. He is a rising junior and political science major at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. You can follow him at @BizzareBZR.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: More Democracy Reforms