Friday, September 17, 2010

“Where are the monitors” explained

Another one of my guest posts at SiH was on a photo from the Oval Office. In the comments I wondered where the monitors were, if this was a “working” office. Slate’s explainer says that the Oval Office is a ceremonial office, not a working one. They also say, however, that the last two presidents worked without computers “to evade the Presidential Records Act” and that it was likely that President Obama would do so as well.
This is another example of an over-reaction to Nixon’s excesses leading to a negative result. Where previously, the President could maintain written correspondence with the expectation that they would remain generally private (unless released), the expectation is now that the records will become generally public (unless another person determines that they fall under one of a handful of exemptions).
Open access sounds fine, in theory. Who doesn’t want openness and transparency in the political process? But the political process also depends on backroom deals and midnight horse-trading. By forcing the President to work by word-of-mouth, we haven’t really gained anything, and the President has lost the ability to file away on paper anything he needs to; which makes it harder to enforce any deal reached.
In many ways, the governmental oversight mechanisms we have today are a legacy of the 60’s radicals, who learnt their trade taking over college student governments. And all their “tools” are shaped by that experience, but being deployed not by starry-eyed idealists, but by cynical machine politicians. In both cases, they want power. The idealist wants power to make things right; the cynic wants power to make their might. Neither will entertain the thought of reducing the power of government. Baptists and Bootleggers wrote the 18th amendment, Dreamers and Dictators are joining power now.

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