Which party is really committed to fiscal responsibility?The debate over the proposal by President Obama’s blue-ribbon commission on how to cut the deficit is revealing of something most rational people of goodwill already knew: Reason has fled the Republican Party completely, and a combination of fanatical ideology and rampant hypocrisy is all that now defines it. Though Republicans made their recent electoral gains by pretending to be responsible fiscal conservatives, the Republican rank-and-file is, ironically, less willing than Democrats to support the commission’s proposals, which rely mostly on spending cuts and secondarily on tax hikes, due to their ideological refusal to acknowledge that fiscal responsibility includes any responsibility to actually pay for a functioning government (I’ve been unable to find the poll; I believe I saw it on The Chris Mathews Show today, 12/4/10).

Secrecy in International Diplmacy is a Vital Ingredient.There are many situations in which shedding some sunshine on political maneuvers that have been hidden from public view serves the public interest, but, as is so often the case, revealing all secrets is not a universal and absolute good. JFK negotiated a peaceful end to The Cuban Missile Crisis in part by making a secret promise to remove American missiles (equally threatening to Russia as Cuban missiles were to America) from Turkish soil. The nuances, subtleties, and practicalities of international negotiations sometimes require a level of candor among our agents than complete and universal transparency allows. The traditional press, though always (for the last half-century or so, at least) far more inclined toward public disclosure than toward helping government keep secrets, has exercised a bit of self-restraint when a good case could be made for the maintenance of some secrets in service to the public interest. Some are offended by such a notion, but I argue that such a reduction of all things to plebiscite would be crippling to international relations. We formed a representative democracy for a reason; their are functions that require agents to be able to act with some latitude on behalf of their principal, and if we strip all of our agents of all such latitude, we will collectively suffer for it. The difficult challenge of holding our agents accountable to our interests, while empowering them to act with some independent (and even occasionally secretive) latitude, is not a trivial one, and errors will be made of both too much and too little public vigilance, too much and too little government empowerment and authorization. But the worst error almost always is the embrace of an extreme and inflexible absolute rather than some acknowledgement of the demands of nuance and subtlety to strike a well-reasoned balance.

While the decentralization of information production and access is, overall, a very powerful tool for human progress, it also poses some serious challenges to our collective welfare on a variety of fronts. One such front is reliability; a great deal of very unreliable information flows very rapidly along virtual networks. Another front involves striking the balance between complete public transparency and some enclaves of confidentiality, a challenge which involves dimensions other than international diplomacy (e.g., decreased confidentiality of personal information of various kinds is another, very different, dimension of this same problem). While some might make a bright line distinction between “public” and “private” information, the more useful distinction is between productive and counterproductive secrecy.

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