The Transparency Party
The Transparency Party
November 14, 2014
The other day a friend mentioned that he would vote for the first presidential candidate that agrees to wear a GoPro camera on her head and live-stream every working minute of the presidency.
My first reaction to the idea was that it was funny but impractical.
But … the idea was coming from one of the smartest people I know. So I listened as he unfolded his thoughts. There’s a lot of cleverness baked into this simple idea, and it is more doable than you first think.
Imagine a charismatic, science-loving candidate, under 40, running a presidential campaign while wearing a GoPro on her head and live-streaming every bit of it to the Internet. The media LOVES that candidate because she is interesting news, assuming she is a serious candidate in every other way. How do you ignore her?
The biggest hurdle for a third-party candidate is getting attention. The GoPro camera on the head solves that problem in a big way. And it would force both the incumbent and the established challenger to defend keeping secrets from the public at the same time they strip away privacy from citizens.
Sure, politicians say they have good reasons for taking your privacy, but the public doesn’t appreciate complex arguments. The public responds to imaginary notions of “fairness,” and to most people it just sounds fair that the government should be more transparent than the citizens it governs.
The GoPro candidate could have an intellectually compelling reason for government transparency too, which I will explain in a moment. But the public needs to quickly understand their candidates with stereotypical labels.
Hilary Clinton: Liberal
Jeb Bush: Conservative
GoPro Candidate: Transparent
The GoPro candidate would have what I call the winning comparison. Half of the country is biased against anything labelled liberal and the other half dislikes anything labelled conservative, but no one is opposed to knowing whether their government is worth the money they pay for it.
Imagine a fit, qualified, 35-year old female presidential candidate with a GoPro on her head, debating Hilary Clinton on stage. The GoPro candidate would make Hilary look like that pile of rags in the garage that you intend to throw away but never do.
And the visual impact of the GoPro on the head would turn the national conversation to government transparency. How would competing old-school candidates sell the idea that the public is better off remaining ignorant while trusting the government?
The GoPro candidate could dominate the news cycle simply by being visually interesting every time. If a news editor has to choose between a cool video clip from the GoPro live feed versus a discussion of a candidate’s tax policies that will never be implemented, which one is the top story?
And privacy is always a hot story. The GoPro candidate would put a face on one of the biggest topics of the times.
So the GoPro candidate could easily suck all of the attention out of a presidential campaign. But obviously there has to be some substance or it will play out like Donald Trump on the campaign trail – more of a joke than a real thing.
For the sake of seriousness, let’s say the GoPro gimmick is for the campaign trail and not the Oval Office. Once in office, the candidate will have professional crews filming her instead of wearing the camera on her head. This would all be clearly stated during the campaign.
As a helpful citizen, I put together a platform that might make sense for the science-loving Transparency Party candidate. You have seen some of these ideas before.
Transparency Party Platform
Government should be transparent so the citizens can see what they are paying for. This is the only way to keep the influence of lobbyists at bay in a society that values free speech.
National security conversations would be tape-delayed. An independent, bi-partisan group would be formed to decide when to release tape-delayed stuff. The politicians would still feel the heat of public scrutiny because the public will someday see what happened behind closed doors.
The President should be less of a “leader” and more of a communicator-in-chief. During filmed business meetings the GoPro president would sometimes speak directly to the viewers at home to explain the context of the meeting. Then the President would challenge the opinions in the room and demand data, all on camera.
The government would fund private competition to build a website that would allow the best arguments on any issue to bubble to the top, for both pro and con. As communicator-in-chief, the president would refer to the two “best” arguments whenever explaining policy to the public.
A president’s opinion should change when the data changes. Don’t expect consistency.
States should be test beds for social and economic experiments. When something works at the state level the President would act as communicator-in-chief to persuade other states to adopting methods that are proven to work.
For social issues, the GoPro candidate agrees to side with the majority opinion for lawmaking purposes while reserving the right to try and sway the majority with new data or better arguments. That takes social issues off the President’s desk and puts them in the public’s hands where they belong. If a new social policy succeeds at a state level, the President would encourage others to look at it.
You might say there are obvious problems with government transparency because sometimes politicians really do need to make deals behind closed doors to get things done, or to save face for some partner country, or to “manage” the voters that are frankly not smart enough to understand the big issues. That was the old thinking, and it probably made sense in the past. But in today’s world, government transparency might be the smarter approach.
The powerful idea here is that government secrecy is always a red flag that the government is doing something wrong. Remove the secrecy and the only remaining options are ideas that require effective selling to the public. And the best seller in the world would be the communicator-in-chief. The President would show his thinking process, show his data sources, show the counter-arguments, compare options, and present a reasoned opinion on every issue.
Sometimes the media, pundits, and other experts will make a strong counter-argument to the President’s position. In those situations the Transparency president is free to change her opinions. In fact, doing so would bolster her credibility, so long as the reasoning is clearly explained to the public.
In the comments I expect to see lots of examples of things that would not work in a fully-transparent government. But watch how each of the reasons is debunked by your fellow commenters. It takes some effort to think through the reasoning of how transparency is a cure-all for government inefficiency, but I think you will be surprised how robust the idea is.