Transparency and the Public Stomach

By Harry Shearer

I'll let the policy wonks continue their year-long exegesis (help me, exegesis!) of the health-care bill's details.  But one thing seems clear after the most drawn-out rush in the history of human legislation: this transparency thing definitely needs a re-think.

Oh, sure, plenty of the action in the HCR saga happened behind closed doors: The Gang of Six, for example, could have been meeting at a CIA black prison in Lithuania for all we know about what really went on in those discussions.   But even what we do know--Mary Landrieu's deal, Ben Nelson's deal--is too much for the tender sensibilities of the body politic, or at least its stomach.  Republicans, acting as the temporary defender of the public stomach (although I don't remember delicacy and deal-aversiveness being their dominant characteristics when they ran Congress), have upped the dyspepsia level, but the fact remains: we don't like seeing how Congress works.   In America's long battle between myth and reality, we always prefer the civics-class myth to the gritty reality, just as supposed "military intellectuals" cling to the comic-book usage "the bad guys."

Baby-boomers insisted on a more transparent Presidential nominating process--no more decisions made by senior pols in smoke-filled rooms.  What we got was primaries dominated by polls and 30-second spots.  And, of course, incomparably superior candidates.

The cliche is that you never want to watch how laws and sausages are made.   A contrary cliche, dating from the Progressive era, is that sunlight is the best disinfectant.  Maybe they meant "emetic."

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/12/transparency-and-the-public-stomach/32592/