An essential value of access to information in a democracy…
…is its ability to convince citizens to vote beyond—and sometimes against—their own self-interest.
The New York Times published an editorial today enumerating the poor defenses by the executive branch of its own economic policies.
Mr. Bush boasted about 52 consecutive months of job growth during his presidency. What matters is the magnitude of growth, not ticks on a calendar. The economic expansion under Mr. Bush — which it is safe to assume is now over — produced job growth of 4.2 percent. That is the worst performance over a business cycle since the government started keeping track in 1945.
Mr. Bush also talked approvingly of the recent unemployment rate of 4.8 percent. A low rate is good news when it indicates a robust job market. The unemployment rate ticked down last month because hundreds of thousands of people dropped out of the work force altogether. Worse, long-term unemployment, of six months or more, hit 17.5 percent. We’d expect that in the depths of a recession. It is unprecedented at the onset of one.
What struck me while reading the editorial was that access to accurate statistics has consistently convinced me to vote beyond my own self-interest. This November will be my tenth trip to the polls, and in every one, my decision has been based on issues that have little to nothing to do with my everyday life. I’m financially stable, know only two people deployed to Iraq—and in support positions at that—have excellent private health insurance, and take the bus to work. But on those issues (the economy, the war, health care, and dependence on foreign oil), I have strong opinions on what the next President should do. It must sound pedantic, but there’s no possible way for me to have those opinions, and have them based somewhat on reality, without access to good information. It’s the one thing that achieves the major (stated) goals of both contemporary liberals and contemporary conservatives: to hold those in power accountable for their promises and actions, and to let people make decisions for themselves.
That’s why I’ve considered President Johnson’s signing of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966 to be as important as his signing of the Civil Rights Act two years earlier, and why suppression of documents—whether by someone fearful of being charged with spying on their fellow citizens or by a candidate afraid of what their previously undisclosed financial ties will reveal—is inevitably harmful in a society whose power, ultimately, even if only every four or eight years, rests with voters.