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100 ?’s for Government: Does government have to be honest with its citizens?

January 19, 2013

This is Question 47 from “100 Questions for Government” series

Much as we might like to deny it, our relationship with our government is like any committed relationship. Of course, depending on your perspective on such liaisons, that means one of the following:

a)    Honesty is essential in every situation
b)   The occasional “white lie” doesn’t hurt if it’s made with good intent
c)   What you don’t know won’t hurt you
d)   If there wasn’t the occasional lie, we’d have to tell the truth
e)    What’s the point of a committed relationship if you can’t mislead your partner?

When humans first began to build communities, the ability to keep a secret or mislead constituents had to be relatively small – with everybody in everybody else’s lives it was probably hard to hide. In a nation of three hundred million people, we consistently:

a)    Hear of politicians being exposed as hypocrites or at least guilty of misrepresentation
b)   View political representations from Super PACs and candidates which border on outright lies
c)   Are fed generalizations rather than specific initiatives
d)   Deal with political statements generated by each party’s “spin doctors”
e)    Fail to find out how many alien spacecraft we have captured[1]

That our democracy has reached the point where intelligent debate has been replaced by self-interested representations is disappointing. When the complexity of modern technology and life is added to the mix, it’s not surprising that our government has reached the point of being dysfunctional.

While there may be the occasional egomaniac in it for the glory, my suspicion is that the vast majority of politicians enter the field with genuine good intentions. Unfortunately, to be elected to public office they need the support of a well-oiled machine which leaves them obligated to (in order of importance):

  1. Whoever is behind their large super PAC
  2. Corporate donors
  3. Rich donors
  4. Small donors
  5. Constituents

Knowing that it’s politically incorrect admit that you feel obligated to your SuperPAC before individual voters, politicians will continually protest their undying love for the electorate but this is a half-truth at best. Unless you are a second term President with no aspirations of earning money after you leave office, you need to acknowledge, and be influenced by, the financial support of your largest donors – you’ll need their support in future elections.

The conflict between obligations to your largest donors and governing “for the people, almost guarantees a little bending of the truth. While we could explore specific examples, we may have to accept our representatives occasionally lie to us! (pause for stunned reaction)

Whether you feel the lies are limited to how many alien spacecraft we have in Area 51 or span almost every word coming from their mouths, you have to wonder who or what they are protecting us from (actually, if it’s only Area 51 we don’t have to). I think each of us have to ask whether we want to be treated as adults who can make decisions based on the facts or whether the scaremongering and continually re-engineering of the facts help or hinder the democratic process.

Initial Opinion:

I know it makes me old-fashioned, but I’d really like to know the facts. I believe honesty from all candidates would help the United States return to being a beacon of everything that’s great about democracy. However, as a realist I recognize the only way to reach this nirvana would be to roll back the influence of special interests and legislate for legitimate debate of policies on their merits – why would we do that when we can enjoy billions of dollars of misleading claims and “spin”?

[1] OK, that may have exposed the conspiracy theorist in me! J

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