What Transparency Demands

Andrew writes:

So many readers are furious that I have dared to ask the president to show the original copy of his birth certificate. The reason for demanding it is the same reason for demanding basic medical records proving Sarah Palin is the biological mother of Trig.
Because it would make it go away and it’s easily done.
I’m tired of these public officials believing they have some right to privacy. They don’t. It’s the price of public office. If you don’t like it, don’t be president. And for goodness’ sake, don’t run for president on a platform of transparency.

I find this admirably consistent, and I generally favor transparency in government. I also think Pres. Obama and former Gov. Palin would save us trouble by doing anything in their power to put these conspiracy theories to rest — and that they refrain from doing so because they benefit from ongoing controversies wherein their most vocal political adversaries appear to be conspiracy theorists.

But I disagree that “transparency” or campaign promises gesturing toward it demand action from either of them.

Surely we can all agree that elected officials necessarily enjoy less privacy that what is due a private citizens. For example, the medical health of a president or a governor is a matter of public concern, as are their financial entanglements and associates. It is easy to understand why.

As evident is that public officials are under no “transparency” obligation to address all questions. Were the right fringe to allege that Barack Obama is in fact a woman, and demand a photograph of his penis to definitively prove otherwise, and the left fringe retaliated by alleging that Sarah Palin is a man, and requested the same sort of photographic proof, Andrew would surely join me in concluding that both politicians have some right to privacy. Right?

So it isn’t true that politicians have no right to privacy. The question is thus what distinguishes situations when transparent politicians are obligated to provide all the answers they can from situations when they face a lesser burden. If we’re talking about what they should do as transparency advocates, rather than what they’re legally or prudentially compelled to do, I’d suggest this metric: would full transparency afford any insight into their actual official duties or their ability to perform them?

As far as I can see, neither details about the birth of Trig Palin nor seeing whatever it is the birthers are now demanding would give us any useful insight into how Sarah Palin or Barack Obama might perform in office. Critics of my standard might say, “Were the conspiracy theories true — if Palin is lying about Trig, or Obama is lying about his birth certificate — the information demanded would afford invaluable insights into these people!”

The standard these critics prefer would seem to be, “If a conspiracy theory’s truth would make a politician out to be a liar, he or she must do everything in their power to refute it.” Again, I find that transparency standard untenable, and so should you, unless you’re prepared to react to an “Obama’s a woman” conspiracy by asking Barack Obama for a naked photo.