Matthew Dowd: Secret Service, GSA Scandals Undermine Faith in Institutions

Apr 22, 2012 2:23pm
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ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd said the recent scandals involving the Secret Service and GSA reflect a declining trust in American institutions at all levels.

“The American public has lost faith in every single institution in this country,” Dowd said this morning on the “This Week” roundtable. “They have lost faith in sporting institutions in this country because of many different scandals. They’ve lost faith in the government. They’ve lost faith in both political parties… They’ve lost faith in corporate institutions. They’ve lost faith in the media.”

Dowd said Americans have begun to “roll their eyes” at stories such as the prostitution scandal involving the Secret Service in Colombia, and the recent uncovering of lavish spending by the General Services Administration at a Las Vegas conference.

“Nobody’s willing to fix Washington. Nobody’s willing to fix the crisis of the institutional faith that we’ve lost in here,” Dowd said. “And this to me is just another example of the American public saying, ‘Listen, I don’t trust any of you.’”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also said that the lavish spending by the GSA undermines trust in all levels of government.

“The GSA is the agency that’s supposed to be setting the example for other agencies,” Collins said on “This Week.” “It has widespread responsibility for federal contracting, so its actions set a bad example across government. And it’s also unfair to the thousands of federal employees who act appropriately, because this reinforces the worst perception.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said the scandals reflected “a reluctance to leave youth behind and immaturity.”

“You have to wonder what is going on with those adults in serious, responsible, publicly-paid-for positions, who have, it seems to me, less and less of a sense of probity, responsibility, the sort of basic adultness and maintaining of standards that we ought to be used to,” Noonan said. “It seems to me we’ve got a big slip going on there and these two stories are part of it.”

But Dowd disputed Sarah Palin’s charge that the Secret Service scandal showed President Obama to not be a competent leader, calling the claim “totally ridiculous.”

“The idea that some lower-level Secret Service guys performed very badly and did something very bad doesn’t really say anything to me about the president,” Dowd said.

Keith Olbermann said the two scandals should not be seen as reflecting dysfunction in the current administration, noting that the GSA has had problems in the past, and the Secret Service scandal was not likely a first-time occurrence.

“If you’re going to extrapolate from these two scandals to the entirety of government I think is a mistake,” Olbermann said. “First off, GSA has been a problem for a long time, not just under this presidential administration. As many people have pointed out, with the Secret Service scandal in Colombia, is it possible that this was suddenly the idea of six, 10, a dozen agents for the first time, they said, ‘On this trip, let’s go and do this’?”

George Will also said it was unfair to blame President Obama for either scandal, saying they were instead a symptom of “big government.”

“It is unfair to blame Barack Obama for the GSA or any of these things, because although people think he controls the executive branch, no one controls the executive branch,” Will said. “That’s part of the problem with big government is that there’s no leash strong enough to hold it.”

But ABC News contributor Donna Brazile said both scandals may simply reflect the actions of “a few rotten apples.”

“As someone who’s been around Secret Service agents for 30 years — and I can tell you this — I’ve never seen this kind of conduct. These are the best of the best,” Brazile said. “In this investigation hopefully we’ll get to the bottom of it. We might find that this is just a few individuals, a few rotten apples.

“I don’t think we should judge everybody, throw out the baby with the bathwater and to treat these government employees — they protect our lives. They protect our food. They protect us in the air,” Brazile added. “And we have a few rotten apples, just like we have a few rotten apples in sports, in the church, and everywhere else.”

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