Careful What You Wish For

In what now seems a much simpler time, people used to complain that rules and laws were decided in small, smoke filled rooms in secret by a handful of politicians.  Transparency we thought was what we needed as if somehow being able to watch the legislative process would make it better.  It was a good thought but has not brought the hoped for results.

Instead it has seemed to have created even more uncertainty and questions.  More voices in the room and eyes on the procedures have slowed the already slow legislative process to a crawl and created even more partisan bickering.  Gone are the days when elected officials from both parties would get together and produce compromise legislation in a somewhat timely manner.  Today neither side wants to appear as if they gave in to the other and appear weak.  Compromise is now seen as a sign of weakness.  Leadership is no longer measured by results but rather by how many media interviews get done and if a party’s agenda is protected.  It seems as if politicians today can’t wait to get out of a hearing or meeting to get in front of a TV camera and microphone to give their spin on what’s being discussed.  I don’t think this is what people had in mind when they called for more transparency.

No doubt there are still elected officials in both parties that would like to work together and get things done but they are often silenced by party leaders.  Today members of Congress quote party talking points or risk political punishment.  Seldom do we hear politicians emerge from negotiations talking about possible paths forward but rather about how the other side is keeping progress from being made.  Much of this isn’t really new.  Partisan politics have been going on since our country was founded but they seem to be getting worse not better and today’s transparency only seems to confirm what we suspected all along.  Instead of providing incentive to be more accountable, transparency has instead provided a platform to justify a lack of accountability.

The legislative process has often been compared to sausage making. In other words you probably won’t like watching it made but you’ll like the end product. However in today’s politics it seems not only do we not like seeing the process but we are less and less satisfied with the result.  Transparency has some advantages but also makes us question if the ends ever justify the means.