President Obama often talks about transparency. He says in almost every interview and town hall meeting that he wants to put everything Washington does on a Web site. In response, Republicans cry foul and point to the lack of transparency in the final stages of the health care debate. Although Obama has apologized for the perceived lack of progress, he shouldn’t have to. Transparency is an overrated and unattainable goal.
While it is nice to know what deals are being made, politics is about taking individual interests and combining them for a collective result. If deals have to be made, so be it. And if legislators are afraid to make deals, they should find a different job. The backroom deals that are made are far less important than the end result the bill that makes it to the floor.
In any case, no political agreement is truly secret. Every sleazy deal, kickback and exemption in U.S. legislative history has been brought to the floor and voted on, out in the open for everyone to see. For those who do not know about it, tough luck it is in records that can be looked up.
On a related note, people should stop criticizing earmarks, since they are an essential part of reaching solutions through collective action. People should vote for bills that are in their electoral interests. It may not benefit other states or districts, but if a bill passes because of a chocolate clock tower in Framingham, Mass., what is the harm? Earmarks are not the problem with our deficit, and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is foolish to think so. If we really want to reduce the deficit, we have to end entitlements. Whether or not this is a good idea, which I personally believe is not, it is not politically possible.
Controversy has surrounded the so-called ‘Cornhusker Kickback,” which persuaded Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) to vote for the Senate health care bill. Critics said that he abused his power to get what he wanted. They are half right, but it is also his job to make deals that satisfy the interests of his state. The system is not broken it is working perfectly. And deals far more egregious have been made for far less important reasons. In an energy bill several years ago, a congressman in Tennessee voted for the bill because the regulations exempted one specific factory in his district. Where were the bloggers decrying the controversy there?
And, by the way, what if there were transparency for these deals? What difference would it make? Few people watch C-SPAN, and most of its viewers would already know about them anyway. Trying to stop a secret deal in Washington by filming it on camera is like thinking the end of a movie can be changed just by watching it.
People seem to want their politics out in the open, and then they get upset about how sordid it can become which is one reason it is behind closed doors in the first place. It is impossible to put hundreds of people, each with their own interests, into the same room and then demand a collective result that will benefit all of them. Even getting a majority to agree will be very difficult, and it will quickly get ugly hence the legislative process.
Obama supposedly tried to change Washington and end its backroom deals and special interests tyranny. For some reason, we are shocked that nothing has changed. It is not Obama’s fault, however. It is the way politics works. Just be glad we are not beating each other on the head with a cane, cracking open skulls (this actually happened in the 1850s).
Simply saying the system should be better is immature. It is an ugly process, but any other process would be far uglier, and showing it on TV would not make it go away.
Dawidowicz is a member of
the class of 2012.