It’s Not a Bug in Transparency, Mr. Brooks, It’s a Feature

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

David Brooks coins a typically nauseating new Brooksian term, then says he wants government and politicians to be less transparent. Here’s why:

Sunshinism is a destructive ideology. Forcing people to financially undress in public is just one of those incursions that repels decent people from running for office… It also destroys people’s faith in government. Have you noticed that as democracy has become more open, cynicism has skyrocketed and the effectiveness of government has gone down the toilet?

It’s telling that (1) Brooks recognizes that the more people learn about government and politicians, the more contemptible they find both, and that (2) his solution to this is not to recognize the inherent corruption of government, and therefore to reduce its influence (Brooks is a big government conservative), it’s to keep growing government, but to also keep people from knowing how awful government really is.

 

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28 Responses to “It’s Not a Bug in Transparency, Mr. Brooks, It’s a Feature”

  1. #1 |  BSK | 

    I wonder if he would apply the logic of airing one’s financial laundry in public as not something people love to do to the rest of us.

  2. #2 |  Nick | 

    You forgot to mention that, (3) he incorrectly states that government has become more open over time.

  3. #3 |  CyniCAl | 

    “… decent people from running for office …”

    Mutually-exclusive terms. An impossibility.

  4. #4 |  Comrade Dread | 

    Unfortunately, it’s a Catch-22.

    In order to reform, one must become a part of the government. But to become part of the government, one needs a lot of money, and must take checks from big business. In order to get checks from big business, one must convince them that you will look out for their interests, which are contrary to any meaningful reforms of government and accountability (in the public and private sectors.)

    Hence, I don’t see the system changing in any meaningful fashion, be it more towards your liking (libertarianism) or more towards my liking (more of a left-libertarianism.)

  5. #5 |  Comrade Dread | 

    Or, what CyniCAl said. :)

  6. #6 |  Mike T | 

    So let me get this straight. He wants a higher standard of conduct for the GS12s-GS15s that make up the bulk of federal law enforcement and the intelligence community than the people controlling the purse strings and sending us to war?

  7. #7 |  albatross | 

    It’s easy to understand his position, once you recognize that he’s not making an argument on principle, he’s fighting for the perqs of being in the ruling class. Financial disclosure for some nobody FBI agent or federal bureaucrat doesn’t offend him, because he’s not in the business of fighting for them. Financial disclosure for the rich and powerful, though, that really causes some discomfort for the people Brooks actually cares about. Real people are being inconvenienced there.

  8. #8 |  GeneralGarbage | 

    “Forcing people to financially undress in public is just one of those incursions that repels decent people from running for office”

    I’m not sure I get this. I really wouldn’t mind giving a public overview of my finances if I wanted to be president. It’s not like it’s an audit that goes down to credit card bills for dildos or anything. If you want to run the nmost powerful country in the world, I don’t think it’s too much for us to ask where you’re money comes from and what financial interests or sympathies you might have.

    I can only assume that Brooks’ conception of “decent people” is inclusive of folks with crimes or embarrassing secrets, like a Cayman tax shelter, to hide.

  9. #9 |  yonemoto | 

    “But to become part of the government, one needs a lot of money, and must take checks from big business.”

    citation please. Last I checked, Ron Paul raised quite a bit of money without checks from big business, and that’s just one example.

  10. #10 |  Dante | 

    The reason “decent people” don’t seek a career in politics is the same reason they don’t roll around in pig excrement.

    It’s nasty. It stinks. It ruins your reputation to be forever known as an “pig excrement diver”.

    Except, of course, amoung all the other pig excrement divers.

    And that’s who is in control of this country.

  11. #11 |  Jason | 

    Doesn’t complying with the income tax involve requiring people “to financially undress in public”?

  12. #12 |  Comrade Dread | 

    That’s your counter-example? Ron Paul.

    The man who (for all of his good ideas on foreign policy) has as much chance of becoming President as Richard Dawkins has of becoming the next Pope?

  13. #13 |  Balloon maker | 

    Comrade, are you denying that Ron paul is “part of government”?

  14. #14 |  stickrouse | 

    @12 You don’t watch South Park do you??

  15. #15 |  Cynical in New York | 

    Whats wrong with cynicism? Also…Sunshinism? Really? Seriously?

  16. #16 |  JSL | 

    No one should take Brooks seriously, he judges by pant creases not facts.

    ‘That first encounter is still vivid in Brooks’s mind. “I remember distinctly an image of–we were sitting on his couches, and I was looking at his pant leg and his perfectly creased pant,” Brooks says, “and I’m thinking, a) he’s going to be president and b) he’ll be a very good president.” ‘

  17. #17 |  Rauðbjorn | 

    “The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself… Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable.”
    – H. L. Mencken

  18. #18 |  Sean L. | 

    I just opened up an interior wall of my house and found some fungus.

    Fungus is really repugnant. As I pull the wall back further, I’m even more disgusted with what I see.

    I could either rip the whole thing down and go through all the pain and expense of cleaning it out, or I could put up a really strong wall that would make it harder for me to see it grow until it actually invades my lungs and kills me. Hmmm..

    What a fucking moron.

  19. #19 |  Matt I. | 

    I would like to play Devil’s Advocate for a bit.

    What if, as will probably be likely in the next 10 years, you had the ability to combine mass surveillance with facial recognition technology to determine precisely where every single candidate has been out in public their whole lives.

    You have a record of how he snuck into a bar when he was 18, and how he hired a stripper when he was 21. You have a record of the non PC jokes he made, and the things he told his wife. You have a record of the women he saw and the man he met last night.

    Would this information then mean that the only possible candidates with a shot at getting elected will be those with the connections that allow this information to disappear? Those for whom records are unavailable and whose cameras mysteriously stopped working when they were in the picture?

    I’m not saying that this isn’t precisely why surveillance is to be opposed, nor am I saying that the release of one’s tax records is anywhere near as intrusive as this, but it begs the question of whether or not one would have a different opinion on sunshine were that the case.

  20. #20 |  Mike T | 

    I’m not saying that this isn’t precisely why surveillance is to be opposed, nor am I saying that the release of one’s tax records is anywhere near as intrusive as this, but it begs the question of whether or not one would have a different opinion on sunshine were that the case.

    I think you misunderstand the critical distinction here between disclosure and surveillance. Financial disclosure is voluntary. You want the job? You have to, under penalty of perjury, voluntarily enumerate your assets to the prospective employer. Almost invariably, the reason is that the damage you could do by being bribed or blackmailed is more important than your privacy on your financial standing. It’s not just federal and state employers that do this, but also many financial institutions require financial disclosure to make sure that their people aren’t doing things which are unethical or illegal.

    It does the cause of privacy absolutely no good to conflate disclosure and surveillance.

  21. #21 |  supercat | 

    #20 | Mike T | “I think you misunderstand the critical distinction here between disclosure and surveillance.”

    I think the principle remains, even if disclosure is “voluntary”: demanding “full” disclosures from politicians will greatly favor those with the connection to make their so-called “full” disclosures in actuality be anything but.

  22. #22 |  Personanongrata | 

    When you run for public office your private life is fair game.

  23. #23 |  supercat | 

    Mr. Brooks thinks “sunshinism” is bad because it undermines people’s faith in government: “Have you noticed that as democracy has become more open, cynicism has skyrocketed and the effectiveness of government has gone down the toilet?”

    Mr. Brooks probably believes that making the public aware of the mistakes of a benevolent government may have worse effects than allowing the government to clean up after its mistakes confidentiality. He is, in fact, correct in this belief. Where he errs, however, is in his apparent assumption that governments will always remain benevolent. Limiting the effectiveness of a malevolent government may be a good thing.

    On the other hand, informing the public of government wrongs may not always drive the government to right action. If some government personnel commit grave wrongs, but despite very broad public awareness the actual reaction against them is very slight, other government personnel may take that as a green light to commit similar wrongs themselves. In some sense, it may have been better if the transgressions of the first agents had not become so public.

  24. #24 |  Woog | 

    Cockroaches don’t like the light. It is indeed telling that David Brooks doesn’t like sunshine.

  25. #25 |  derfel cadarn | 

    Using the same logic the government spouts “if you have nothing to hide then you do not need to be worried”. If it is like forcing people to undress in public,so be it. It should be required of ALL American politicians,it should be required that it all hang out. The majority of American people upon viewing will probably go blind,but according to Peggy Bundy the blindness is only temporary.

  26. #26 |  Medicine Man | 

    I think Brooks is a court stenographer first and foremost. I think you’re projecting philosophical rigor onto him by calling him a big government conservative.

  27. #27 |  Mike T | 

    I think the principle remains, even if disclosure is “voluntary”: demanding “full” disclosures from politicians will greatly favor those with the connection to make their so-called “full” disclosures in actuality be anything but.

    How do you figure that it remains? Any middle class family could theoretically found a LLC, transfer their assets to it and “hide them” from a disclosure that is limited to merely providing a listing of assets. There is no secret power that the “connected” have to hide assets. The only difference, if any, is their ability to hire someone truly gifted at forming shell companies and trusts to move assets around until they’re thoroughly hidden in plain sight.

  28. #28 |  Mike T | 

    ** And even then you just establish a system similar to what federal personnel in sensitive positions (such as federal agents) face: fairly strict liability on taking actions that can be construed as deceiving the federal government on voluntary financial disclosure.

    Seriously, this isn’t rocket science and if you are afraid of “undressing” your finances in front of the public, you have no business running for public office. You lose your moral claim to some of your rights the moment you stand for public office. Individual liberty is not always compatible with the needs of public service, especially in a republic. Republics cannot survive when office holders are allowed to put their own rights ahead of the duties that civic virtue demands of them.

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