This blog was posted as a letter to the editor in the Sunday Boston Globe. Click here to read.
Winston Churchill famously said "Democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms"_" The same is true for transparent government. It may have its drawbacks, but it is a heck of a lot better than government conducted in secret. Tom Keane apparently thinks otherwise (Too Much Transparency, July 21, 2013), as if what we really need is to go back to the days without open meetings and accessible public records, where our officials operate behind closed doors without the accountability of a watching press and public. Remember how well that worked in the past?
Keane's conclusion that sunshine laws such as open meetings and public records laws are responsible for partisan bickering, gridlock, and mean-spirited discourse is way off the mark. The evidence for this is clear. Sunshine laws apply much more rigorously to municipal governments than they do to Congress or the legislature. Yet most local communities see a fraction of the vitriol and gridlock of the US Congress.
There are lots of reasons for the mess in Washington such as gerrymandering, overuse of the filibuster, the rise of hateful talk-radio demagogues, and even the fact that lawmakers no longer move their families to DC. Virtually none of it can be traced to sunshine laws.
Keane is right, however, that quiet conversation is critical for lawmaking. It clearly helped during last week's filibuster showdown in the U.S. Senate. His prescription of more face-to-face, honest talk is well within the law's purview. Increased dialog between people from opposing political camps would do us all good, but to blame the lack of civil debate on transparent government is absurd.