We’ve come some way since the Cold War in this regard, when legitimate national security concerns verged into paranoia. As a former resident of the DC area, I was always amused to drive by the highway exit for the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It wasn’t marked (as if the Russians didn’t know where it was!) so the only folks who didn’t know what was going on were us tax-paying citizens. Indeed, I suspect that amid all the recent hoop-de-do over mis- and over-classified information being negligently carried into Biden’s garage and the store rooms of Mar-a-Lago, little will be said about “overclassification of information and nothing will be said about the fact that a noticeable chunk of this stuff is already known to those “foreign adversaries” whose mitts we are apparently trying to keep of the merchandise.
Whatever else might well be said about Edward Snowden’s exposure of secret US spying programs and information (and there’s little doubt that he went overboard), it’s also important to keep (public) tabs on what the national security state is up to, since they have built-in tendencies to abuse their power.
On the domestic front, it is perhaps too much to ask of politicians (of whatever stripe) to speak the truth about their motivations and goals. Political candor would generate a lot of (self-referential) media frenzy and widespread popular disorientation. But, I can imagine political figures starting to utilize the nominally admirable words and phrases of their opponents and reseize semantic control.
What if politicians (again, of all stripes) were to start using the phrases and buzz words of their opponents since—most of the time—they actually agree with the literal statements made. What’s wrong with wanting to make America great again? Don’t we all agree that election integrity is vital to our democracy? Shouldn’t we all put “America first”? What if MAGA-ites started acknowledging that “Black Lives Matter” or talking about promoting and protecting the middle class?
By stripping politicians of their rhetorical monopolies, the harping on familiar themes would become less newsworthy and the phrases themselves would be more neutralized and a bit less like “dog-whistles.” Indeed, we might nudge our public debates towards a bit more specificity in what the buzz words/pabulum/sound-bites actually meant. What a delight it would be to confound the media’s insatiable hunger for “sound bites.” They would stumble a bit and have to come up with a new approach to their ordinary dichotomous/adversarial framing of every issue. A few might even try to articulate what was really at stake rather than the apparent intractability of “free speech on campus” versus “hate speech,” or “balanced budget” versus “social justice.”
In terms of domestic policy and governmental activities, the biggest fault lies with Congress (and comparable state and local bodies) who is supposed to provide oversight of the Executive Branch (and not just chase after Hunter Biden to score political points). Our budgets and spending are a mess, but in the pork-barrel/earmark-hungry halls of Congress, its more important to land a grant to build something nameable in the home district than ensuring that things built have adequate maintenance/amortization support to ensure services are actually delivered over an extended period. It’s too politically valuable to promise fat pensions to public employee unions who financial burden will land on those in office (and paying taxes) twenty-to-forty years hence (just ask the folks in Illinois and numerous other local/state jurisdictions who are facing mountainous deficits for decisions made thirty-fifty years ago). The Congressional Budget Office was supposed to do this, as well as the GAO (Government Accountability Office); but both are overseen by politicians whose interest in solid financial management is suspect to be sure. The non-profits who venture into this territory are tiny and weak-voiced. “Highly speculative” revenue projections and deferred maintenance expenses mean that government budgets at all levels are dubious. If these operating entities were in the private sector the capital markets would enforce some sense of reality and government regulation would require much more realistic accounting standards.
You know, I’m all for democracy and political control over important public activities, but the same principle that values an independent judiciary could well be extended to various aspects of government information and assumptions and given some insulation from the directly elected officials whose exposure to the hurly-burly of politics makes them dubious guardians of the public purse and other aspects of governmental integrity. A bit more public “fact-checking” and “reality-checking” would go a long way. A good “airing out” of the truths and facts that are known to insiders has helped in international affairs and could help restore some credibility in our domestic politics, too.