Modern politicians share colorless language of transparency
Any old-timer will tell you there was an era when jargon did not infect politics.
Everybody was straightforward with the spoken word, even if he was a sidewinder in the halls of government.
Richard Nixon was a young vice president when he gave his no-nonsense assessment of what the public should expect from politicians as a group.
“The issue of honesty in government is not a partisan one. You are going to find dishonest people. Some of them are going to be Republicans as well as Democrats,” Nixon said.
Plainspoken as they come, he might have foreseen the Watergate scandal 20 years in his future.
Nowadays, politicians are not so inclined to talk about honesty in government. Their lexicon is different.
Transparency is their preferred term. Openness, the poor cousin of transparency, gets its share of play. And accountability is more popular than openness.
Some modern politicians prefer the double-barrel approach to these terms.
“We must operate state government in an open and transparent manner,” Gov. Susana Martinez once said.
State Sen. Howie Morales, D-Silver City, has had his doubts about progress in that regard.
“I think that it has become less transparent than it has been in the past,” he once said. “That needs to change because our voters, our constituents and our taxpayers deserve to know what’s going on with our government.”
Nobody can question the value of government transparency, or can she?
State Sen. Linda Lopez, D-Albuquerque, wondered last year about Republican Martinez’s motives for hiring people to webcast legislative committee hearings.
“In addition to transparency, most of it will be used for campaigning,” Lopez told the Albuquerque Journal,
State Attorney General Gary King broke down the intricacies of the new lexicon.
“My test for government transparency is, if you’re thinking about doing something as a government official and you would be embarrassed to tell your mother you did it, then you shouldn’t do it,” King said.
Sage advice. After all, moms have long been the standard for those who write about politicians, as in: “If you’re mother says she loves you, get another source.”
Martinez, Morales, Lopez and King are all running for governor in 2014, so discussions about transparency are second nature to them. But the master politician of the last century might not have known what they were talking about.
Ronald Reagan was more direct with language. Upon becoming governor of California in 1967, he made no mention of transparency in a bare-knuckles inauguration speech.
“We can provide jobs for all our people who will work and we can have honest government at a price we can afford. Indeed, unless we accomplish this, our problems will go unsolved, our dreams unfulfilled and we will know the taste of ashes,” Reagan said.
Twenty months into a four-year term, Reagan was running for president. Perhaps he had not been transparent enough about his national aspirations while campaigning for governor.
Transparency and accountability no doubt are good for the country, but they have turned our politicians into robotic orators. We seem to be without officeholders who can explain a budget problem or a dire circumstance with a pithy line.
Abraham Lincoln was one who never bothered with 50-cent words to turn out a million-dollar sentence.
“I can make more generals,” he said, “but horses cost money.”
His language was transparent to all.