By Jefferson Flanders

With all due credit to Big Apple columnist Jimmy Cannon, nobody asked me, but…

GOVERNMENT SECRECY HARMS THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS, so it was heartening news that on New Year’s Eve President Bush signed into law an improved version of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The legislation should accelerate the release of millions of government documents and will make it easier to prod federal agencies to provide information. The enhanced FOIA also broadens the definition of who is a journalist to include bloggers and non-traditional journalists.

The improved FOIA, along with other signs of greater openness , suggested that 2008 might be a banner year for open government—long overdue, considering the Bush Administration’s woeful record on transparency. Secrecy is often the ally of the corrupt, incompetent, and dishonest in government at all levels, federal, state, and local. The more sunshine, the better.

WHERE WERE THOSE CALLS FROM THE LEFT FOR A RECOUNT OF THE SOUTH CAROLINA DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY? Consider: Sen. Barack Obama’s share of the final vote (55.4%) was much larger than pre-vote polls (38.4% in the RCP average). And South Carolina employed touch-screen iVotronic voting machines, considered vulnerable to rigging by some. Didn’t that raise eyebrows, if not suspicions, among Democratic activists and bloggers?

After all, these factors—a gap between final opinion poll and final vote totals, and the potential for voting machine fraud—were cited by the Democratic Netroots in questioning Sen. Hillary Clinton’s surprising victory over Obama in the Jan. 8th New Hampshire primary. The angry Web buzz and rumors of vote fraud prompted Rep. Dennis Kucinich to pay for a partial recount (which validated the vote, finding no significant differences between hand and machine counts.)

So why no rumors of vote fraud in South Carolina? Why no call for a recount? True, the race wasn’t close (Clinton lost by double digits), but if the question was actually one of “election integrity,” as Kucinich and others claimed in the Granite State, then intellectual consistency would require a recount. What was different, however, in South Carolina was that Obama won, not Clinton. Apparently the Netroots saves its voter fraud conspiracy theories for when a favored candidate loses an election.

BRANDEIS PROFESSOR DONALD HINDLEY COULD BE FORGIVEN FOR WONDERING IF he had somehow been transported into one of Franz Kafka’s surreal short stories. Hindley faced discipline from the Brandeis administration after student complaints in the fall of 2007 over his use of the word “wetback” to illustrate, Hindley maintained, the mindset of immigration foes. Brandeis then assigned a monitor to his class and wanted Hindley, who has been teaching at the school for some 47 years, to attend anti-discrimination classes (he refused).

Hindley took his case public, with backing by the Foundation for Individual Rights (FIRE), a nonprofit focused on insuring free speech in higher education, and later received support from the Massachusetts ACLU. Brandeis quickly backed away from the controversy, telling Hindley in a letter on Jan. 7 that it considered the matter closed. But the troubling questions of ignored due process and slighted academic freedom raised in the Hindley matter remained unanswered by Brandeis.

REDBLUEAMERICA, A NEW WEBSITE, with a slogan of “Best Thinking. Both Sides.” features a “blue” and “red” moderator. Shades of CNN’s Crossfire anyone?

JANUARY 2008 PROVED TO BE AN AMAZING MONTH FOR AMERICAN POLITICS, and it also featured some top notch commentary, including: Froma Harrop of the Providence Journal on some of the impacts of gender in Campaign 2008, “N.H. Women Had Enough Insults” and “Single Women Coming Out to Vote“; Slate‘s Christopher Hitchens on the Clintons and the race card; William Kristol in the New York Times on John McCain as a neo-Victorian hero; and the Boston Globe’s Ellen Goodman on “The dream ticket” (and her dream ain’t Romney-Huckabee).


FROM POET T.S. ELIOT COMES THIS month’s closing sentiment: “For last year’s words belong to last year’s language/And next year’s words await another voice.”

Reprinted from Neither Red nor Blue
Copyright © 2008 Jefferson Flanders

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