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The Right Amount of Government Transparency

The Right Amount of Government Transparency

    Rand Paul recently live-streamed a day of his campaign. According to the media, it didn’t go well. (Paul’s dry humor did not survive the leap from video to text.) Still, we might be seeing the future with this live streaming stuff. 

    If you haven’t tried the Periscope app, or one of the other life-streaming products such as Meerkat, you probably don’t know how big a deal this is. Yesterday, from the comfort of my home, I looked through the live-streaming phones of strangers around the planet. They took me on an African lion hunt (using cameras not guns), a hike in Thailand, a beach in Hawaii, and a Taylor Swift concert. All in five minutes. Live streaming of this type is compelling in a way you can’t understand unless you experience it. 

    It feels inevitable that we will start seeing more of a president’s unscripted day. But how much is the right amount? We hear people saying they love Sanders and Trump for their “authenticity.” If that matters, we might want to see them when their guards are down, at least some of the day.

    Rand Paul might not be the ideal personality for live streaming. So let’s imagine a Trump presidency with live streaming of everything except personal/family time and national security meetings. Otherwise, if the president is meeting with other Americans – be they advisors, donors, or other politicians – perhaps we should be seeing that play out live.

    What’s the tradeoff?

    Starting on the plus side, imagine Trump turning national debates into a version of The Apprentice for the benefit of the viewing public. Proponents of one plan or another would make their case to Trump on live video to the world, and he would attack their arguments until the last one was standing. Perhaps users could comment in real time and be part of the process in some small way.

    Consider the issues of gun control, climate change, and immigration. How you feel about those issues has a lot to do with which study you believe and how you interpret it. Imagine Trump forcing both sides to present to him on live-stream, and tearing them both to pieces for being such obvious liars. You would pay to watch that show. And it would educate the public in a way we have never experienced.

    My friend Naval Ravikant was the first to suggest to me the idea of a candidate (and later president) wearing some form of a camera on her head during the entire work day, not counting personal moments and national security stuff. I like that image because it is so outrageous that the right candidate could probably pull it off. Unscripted reality would be media catnip. It would suck all of the attention from the traditional candidates.

    Clearly there are disadvantages to live streaming a president. For one thing, a president is not going to want to give away a negotiating position, show waffling before a decision, or display any random acts of dumbness or intolerance behind closed doors. On the surface it seems bad.

    But consider the authenticity argument. Trump survives criticism with ease simply by being consistent. When people see consistency, they infer authenticity. My hypothesis is that seeing a candidate’s smaller flaws is humanizing. We might get the authenticity the public enjoys. 

    Let’s assume that national security issues and meetings with foreign leaders are all done in private. Would you be okay with your president’s work day being live streamed to the world?

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