Transparency, Wikipedia tells us, describes “operating in such a way that it is easy for others to see what actions are performed. Transparency implies openness, communication, and accountability.” This definition is not so much definitive as it’s handy so let’s go with it. Keep in mind, however, that in politics “transparency” is a smoke-screen word used to imply that it’s something “WE” want, work for, exemplify, and adore while “THEY” ignore, evade, fear, and detest everything transparent. Readers are free to identify the WE and the THEY according to their personal preferences.

I propose to address the transparency fraud head on. Let’s start by acknowledging the plain fact that political participants love transparency like the devil loves holy water, like Nancy loves Donald … but the point has been made. This generalization can be supported by a mass of particulars.

Every political campaign, other than those for minor local offices, have directors, publicity offices, press managers, and others specialists in communication. None of these professionals are devoted to spreading unvarnished truth. Their business is varnishing the news, not clarifying it.

The most successful and talented among them are called “spin doctors.” The measure of their success is not how much they disclose but how much they conceal. They generally avoid outright lies. Evasion is more professional. Phone calls from the press are not answered.

“No comment” is one of the favorite phrases. “Not for attribution” is used to conceal the source of “information” that is useful but not verifiable. Contrived and purposeful leak inundate the political landscape and the press claims an absolute right to conceal the sources.

The public expects candidates to explain their reasons for running and we hear that they want to give back, they believe in public service, they love their country, they want to up-yank the downtrodden, they love something called social justice. None of these claims are demonstrably impossible but few can be tested.

What’s missing is any admission of personal ambition, love of popularity, a hunger for power. We may not be able to prove their existence in individual cases but we know that they must exist in many cases. Yet no one admit this about themselves.

The strangest victory obfuscation that regularly wins over transparency is seen in the contrast between primary and general election campaigns. It is universally recognized by political scientists, pundits, campaign strategists and activists of every variety that a candidate must run on the left (for Democrats) and the right (for Republicans) in the primary, then shift to the center for the general election.

Why shift? That’s obvious, because voters who come out for primary elections are more motivated by political principles while voters in the general election know less, care less and don’t like big changes anyway. It follows that they must be deceived about what a candidate really has in mind if elected. They want to hear reassuring things about bi-partisanship, moderation, centrism, political conflict resolution. The point here is that it’s perfectly possible for a candidate to be a genuinely pragmatic moderate but nobody has ever found a way to distinguish a pragmatist from an opportunist.

It’s well-known that there are millions of voters who find politics boring and annoying. It may be possible to get these voters to admit that they should pay more attention, but that won’t make them interested.

The voters who are interested in politics include those directly affected with specific issues (government pension, jobs in defense industries, tax deductions). Many more voters may not know much about policies but they believe they know something about personalities. So campaigns spend vast sums displaying the candidate, his wife, his children and his dog in a positive light.

The Buttigieg primary campaign provides a useful example how issues play in political campaigns. According to Federal Election Commission reports “Mayor Pete” has spent three times as much money on polling as any other candidate in the Democratic field. He started his campaign with the foggy and disputed record of a small city mayor in Indiana along with a nice pot of donations.

Boosted by his status as the first openly gay candidate for the presidency he started by building a left-lurching reputation which appealed to the rising energy of the Democratic Party’s left-left-left wing. He has moved towards the center as the polling moved rightward. Now he’s being derided as a “political weather vane.” But how does that make him different?

Near as I can see Bernie Sanders is the only candidate who hasn’t moved with the wind and weather over the years. His hatred for capitalists and capitalism has been consistent for decades, although his past admiration for the Soviet Union, Fidel Castro, and Venezuelan socialism is no longer a fit subject for discussion.

Joseph Biden has certainly made clumsy moves to escape the “moderate” label. He has no hope of developing a left-left-left appeal, but he can aspire to become left-leaning.

Elizabeth Warren’s record of mendacity makes her record of consistency immaterial.

Although Kamala Harris has become irrelevant I examined her campaign book in Farmington’s public library and found some interesting parts. Her career is widely reputed to have been enhanced by the intimacies she once enjoyed with Willie Brown, one of the California foremost Democratic personalities. His name appears nowhere in the index.

She writes how delighted she was to find herself at her first meeting at Howard University with not a single white face to be seen. Yet she speaks warmly about diversity elsewhere. Her book has many color photos of the senator and her adoring supporters. All of those photos featured groups and individuals of color. There were two exceptions. One showed her husband, a white man. One showed her stepson, as colorless as his father. Shall we give her credit for these rare lapses into transparency?

John Frary of Farmington, the GOP candidate for U.S. Congress in 2008, is a retired history professor, an emeritus Board Member of Maine Taxpayers United, a Maine Citizen’s Coalition Board member, and publisher of FraryHomeCompanion.com. He can be reached at [email protected]


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