Real Political Accountability, What is it?

This entry is part 1 of 11 in the series Real Accountability

Political accountability of members of Congress must be more than just holding elections. We have elections now, and we don’t have real political accountability.

Cultural definitions of Political Accountability

From Wikipedia:

Political accountability is the accountability of the government, civil servants and politicians to the public…

It goes on to say:

Generally, however, voters do not have any direct way of holding elected representatives to account during the term for which they have been elected.

The World Bank has a paper on it:

accountability involves two distinct stages: answerability and enforcement. Answerability refers to the obligation of … public officials to provide information about their decisions and actions and to justify them to the public…

Enforcement suggests that the public … can sanction the offending party or remedy the contravening behavior.

In the US, the enforcement part only happens in elections- we can only sanction officials by not reelecting them.

The answerability part is almost completely missing. Once in a while, such as during a scandal, the press tries to force answerability. And nowadays we can find out information about some of their actions through websites, such as GovTrack.us and OpenCongress.org. But these do not help our officials to answer us. For instance, they don’t help them justify how a particular vote on a bill was actually in our best interest.

The American Institute in Taiwan sums up how we normally hold political accountability:

The primary political accountability mechanism is free and fair elections.

Being answerable, frequently

But this is far different than the accountability that ordinary Americans have in their jobs, where you’re accountable to your boss daily, weekly or monthly. You’re answerable for anything your boss wants to know, frequently.

Real political accountability

Plus, in the accountability of your job, your boss also has her own ideas about what you should be doing. She gives you instructions, or at least directions, guidance. And she has her own ideas about what you can accomplish. She has expectations. This is also missing in the accountability of Congress and the president.

Real accountability is

  • the boss guiding the worker and having expectations
  • the worker answering the boss’ questions regularly
  • the boss judging the worker
  • the boss being able to fire the worker

To make real political accountability, we’d also need ways that all constituents could communicate with each other to be an effective boss together. We’d need to share guidance, expectations and evaluations.

What if we expanded our notion of political accountability to include all this, with us, the people, being the boss? What if we could have this kind of accountability with Congress?

Try sleeping on this. We’ll go over it again in the next post.

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