Saturday, March 18, 2006

Can a Secretive Government Be an Honest One?

The secrecy of the Bush administration has already become legendary. The administration has utilized every legal, technical, policy, procedural and strong arm technique available to limit and restrict the release and access of information to the media and the public. The guise of national security has been a shroud for much information that otherwise would be available to the public. While the Clinton administration promoted a policy among its agencies of “presumption of disclosure” under the Freedom of Information Act and more broadly, the Bush administration has, remarkably, formally advised its agencies in specific ways to avoid disclosure through technical maneuvering, delays and other tactics.

At one point, in the pronounced halo of 9/11, President Bush was able to convince the American people of his “trust us…we will do what is good for you” message. Now, in the wreckage of foreign policy, the spectacle of incompetence in domestic affairs and the wholesale duplicity that apparently runs through his administration, that trust is no longer possible—even for many conservatives—let alone independents, and setting aside progressives. Forget popularity, per se, the most recent polling says that 59% of the public think that the Bush administration tells the truth “only some of the time or hardly ever”. (CBS News/New York Times Poll, March, 2006)

So can a secretive government be an honest one? Hardly not. Governance in a representative democracy is literally a function of transparency. Our form of government is based on dialogue and constant monitoring for consistency between our intentions as a nation and our actions. Only in the most rare situations of national security concern can secrecy be justified. In the main, if the press or even ordinary citizens cannot avail themselves of the conduct of their government, how can trust be built in the first place. And in this instance, where trust has been damaged, how can it be re-established?

This administration has a lot to answer for and, instead, it continues to try to “brick up” the wall. That is the good news for progressives here, because no likes to be lied to and hiding the truth amounts to the same thing.


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