This morning I watched This Week on ABC as I always do on Sunday mornings, and while I was getting annoyed at the standard back-and-forth about the Repug point-of-view (“We love tax cuts, let the free market sort it out. And Dems never saw a program they did not like.”) and the Democratic point-of-view (“Tax cuts do not fund roads. Tax cuts do not put firemen to work. Tax cuts are bad.”), what really blew my mind was what seemed to be a complete lack of understanding of what the world of technology actually is. And then, Rep. Barney Frank did something that blew my mind, as if transparency being requested was going to hurt the bedrock of democracy.
In the last few minutes of the segment, Eric begins to discuss placing information about the spending “on websites” – and that, if the government was able to track where the money was spent, that the arguments of who was right or wrong would be clarified by seeing what happens with the spending.
In the midst of Eric making this remark, Sen. Jim DeMint, [R-SC] says “You’re assuming we can track this money…” and Rep. Barney Frank [D-MA] suggested that Congress was going to put all of the spending on the web (I assume by the fact that the HR-1 requires these actions to be visible through their Transparency provisions at www.recovery.gov and the Inspector General appointment). But what stuck in my craw was this exchange (transcript from ABCNews):
SCHMIDT: But you could just publish — you could just publish what people are doing, and we could figure out where the money’s going. All you have to do is put these things on Web sites.
FRANK: They are going to be.
SCHMIDT: One of the ways — in fact, one of the issues with TARP was it wasn’t generally known where the money went. If we simply — as part of your work got every single dollar and where it went, we could prove whether your argument is right or your argument is right.
DEMINT: But you assume we can actually track that stuff.
FRANK: Excuse me. Can I just say, first of all, our guys — I would say, putting on a Web site, you’re not entirely disinterested…
SCHMIDT: Of course.
FRANK: … but that’s OK. Fred might want us to mail them to everybody, deliver them — deliver them in a package. But the point is, we’re going to do that.
In fact, the new inspector general, who was set up — we’ve set up a special inspector general. Confirmation was delayed in the Senate. And Mr. Barofsky is now about to demand of every recipient of TARP, past and future, that they do exactly what you say and that we will publish on our Web site.
So there was — I agree. It was not — I think it was better to have had it than not, but it is going to be done.
SCHMIDT: But my point is, you could change — you could change the way we…
FRANK: I’m saying we’re doing it.
SCHMIDT: … change the way…
FRANK: Did I not agree with you?
FRANK: We’re doing it.
SCHMIDT: Chairman, the fact of the matter is, that if the government simply told everybody what you all were doing…
SCHMIDT: … and then people could track it and figure out whether it’s actually working…
FRANK: But we are going to do that.
SCHMIDT: … we could get through these classic fights that you all have.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know…
FRANK: Well, no, I differ — differ with you on that. Please. Let’s not obviate democracy. There are legitimate different philosophical differences between Jim DeMint and myself. Please don’t treat them as some sideshow.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And we will hear — we will hear more about the…
FRANK: They’re important to democracy.
I had to look up “obviate” after that exchange – which I read means “to anticipate and prevent (as a situation) or make unnecessary (as an action)”.
Rep. Frank, may I (respectfully) suggest that the concept of transparency and an informed government is not going to obviate democracy – rather, it will bring more power to the people to be able to ask their representatives to be more accountable. Think of it as an ROI on government action.
In Eric’s world, ROI is all about the long-term value of the marketing campaigns that improve over time. In politics, action in DC is (usually) about the short-term stimulus and political theater. I voted for a change in DC – one about transparency, responsibility and integrity – and all elected officials should know…the election is in 18 months.