Politics

Avoid presidential 'gotcha' games

The clamor for personal information has potentially damaging consequences

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Today, USA Today's editorial board argued that candidates for the White House should disclose almost every bit of information about themselves. Reason Editor-in-Chief Matt Welch argued the opposing view.

News flash: John McCain is an old man who has survived severe war injuries and multiple bouts of melanoma. Bill Clinton wanders the globe raising money for his $360 million foundation and stumping for his wife, Hillary. Barack Obama writes best-selling books and looks smashing with a cigarette dangling from his lips. All three are millionaires.

So why are we in such a frenzy to make them disclose what we already know?

In this era of the Imperial Presidency, so much attention is lavished onto presidential candidates that the focus has strayed from "What do we need to know?" to "What are they hiding?" The former is a matter of citizen self-defense; the latter is a game of gotcha—and one with potentially damaging consequences for the rest of us.

By law, White House contenders are already required to disclose their sources of income. By practice—as a result of public pressure, not a government mandate—all but one major-party nominee since 1984 has released more-detailed income tax returns as well. (In 1992, Democratic nominee Bill Clinton did not.) So far this cycle, only Obama has complied.

What's more significant to the public is a vow by Obama that, if he becomes president, he'll make all federal expenditures searchable on a public database, such as Google.

Want Clinton to come clean? Ask not for her income tax returns but for her husband to allow prompt release of his presidential records. In 2001, President Bush issued an executive order giving living ex-presidents the right to block disclosure of their records long after a 12-year waiting period granted by a 1978 1aw.

Obsessed with McCain's medical records? You should care more about what happened the last time he converted calls for "transparency" into federal law; suddenly, Americans could no longer donate even $200 anonymously to a federal candidate and were faced with heinous restrictions on paying for political ads.

We live in an intrusive age of warrantless wiretaps, feds rifling through your mail and politicians too eager to dictate what you do inside your four walls. What few remaining governmental no-fly zones exist are worth protecting, even if it means shielding the likes of Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

Matt Welch is editor in chief of the libertarian magazine
Reason and author of McCain: The Myth of a Maverick

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  1. Matt is shilling for Big Cover-Up because he’s afraid his trysts with Hillary, Barack, and John will become public knowledge.

  2. I dunno. I think info like the medical status of a president is something voters should know. If a presidential candidate is in poor health, the VP nom becomes much more important than if the candidate is in good health.

  3. Chances are that in 30 years we will have a presidential who had a myspace during his/her teen years. Now that will be interesting.

  4. Wow. Good exposure, Matt. You’ll be just another talking head before you know it. 😉

  5. a presidential [candidate] who had a myspace [account]

    I doubt it. MySpace is for humans. Subhumans, to be sure, but humans all the same.

  6. Is Welch running for something? I RTFA, it appears to be written in standard English but I have no idea if he actually said anything. What was the point to that?

  7. Well the way society is going either everything will be acceptable because everyone will have done it or the major parties will only be able to nomninate Mormons.

  8. PC,
    Well, that would explain G. W. Bush.

    Oh wait, you said Mormons.

  9. Barack Obama … looks smashing with a cigarette dangling from his lips.

    Doesn’t everybody?

  10. I generally agree with Matt most of the time and in a sense I agree with him here.

    But my concern is that whenever we start to discuss what information should and should not be grist for the public mill when it comes to presidential candidates, I always become frightened that someone is planning on making that decision for us.

    To me we’re all better off if the filters are stuck in the off position and let the people sort it out. As the discussion above highlights, different people are going to think different things are important so I think it’s best to just let them have at it.

    I don’t like some of the topics being discussed right now, but I dislike the ‘solution’ more. I realize Matt isn’t advocating that, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t.

  11. I recognize the voyeuristic tendencies in me. But I also am egotistical enough to assume I can make correct deductions about a person’s character and leadership ability based on their prior decisions and actions. Inquiring minds want to know.

  12. I disagree with Matt’s overall premise, but he’s right on with this point:

    Obsessed with McCain’s medical records? You should care more about what happened the last time he converted calls for “transparency” into federal law; suddenly, Americans could no longer donate even $200 anonymously to a federal candidate and were faced with heinous restrictions on paying for political ads.

    Right on.

  13. We’d like to ask you a question about this picture taken of you and an Argellian fruit bat before you came one of our alien galactic overlords….

    zzzzzzzaap!!!!

    And now for today’s weather.

  14. I want to know if a VP nominee is proficient with firearms. At least 2 of our Vice Presidents have shot people while in office, and I think the public has a right to know on this important topic.

    As far as Presidents with MySpace accounts, yeah, that will be interesting. I can’t wait for the “guilt by 6 degrees of separation” game: “Derek Smith was a MySpace friend of Dakota Chernov who was a friend of IndieRawkGrrlll31 who was a friend of BongoDude who was a friend of that dude who did the school shooting of 2010.”

    But what thye’re forgetting is that the school shooter was a MySpace friend of Kevin Bacon!

  15. Kevin Bacon may be part of the alien advance team… now that I think about it.

  16. The notion of personal information privacy is a fading anachronism in the information age. I would like more effort spent on making the penalties for government misuse/mishandling of this information have real consequences (e.g., felony, jail time).

    As to how much one’s life is available/interesting to the public or media, each of us is free to seek anonomity. If you seek wealth and power, notoriety and scrutiny usually come along for the ride.

  17. In 2001, President Bush issued an executive order giving living ex-presidents the right to block disclosure of their records long after a 12-year waiting period granted by a 1978 1aw.

    Yes, I recall that; I also recall that it was mostly to block disclosure of his father’s presidential and vice-presidential papers. If I recall correctly, he did this during the spring or summer before 9/11. I just can’t imagine what Georgie would be wanting to hide about Daddy (and Daddy’s administration) – such a wonderful, principled personage, sooo deserving of having ships and airports etc. named after him – him and his friend, James Baker. Truly, I just can’t fathom it; what would such moral paragons have to hide?

  18. So it’s ok for my magazine to be sent through the mail with a satellite photo of my house on the cover, but it’s not ok to ask people gunning to be the leader of the free world to disclose everything that may be troubling about their presidencies? Good to know.

    This magazine has sucked since Nick Gillespie took his new position. And to think I used to miss Matt Welch.

  19. Damn you, John David, it’s too late for me to take a drink.

  20. I just want to say that having the inventor of DIPS leave a comment here really makes my day.

  21. Okay, I’ve looked but couldn’t find it; what the heck is “DIPS”?

  22. Yes, back in the good old days, when Julian Sanchez was working here. That’s when it was a REAL libertarian publication.

    🙂

  23. I support the law. But by practice , the government is too bad.

  24. Without cheating I believe it stands for Defense Independent Pitching Statistics. Basically, it was the semi-revolutionary insight that the best way to predict a pitcher’s future success was not necessarily his past success (as measure by ERA or whatnot), but his success in preventing batted balls in play. Probably one of the 10 biggest breakthroughs in baseball analysis over the past decade, though surely I’m mischaracterizing it somewhat.

  25. Without cheating I believe it stands for Defense Independent Pitching Statistics.

    Thanks, Matt.

  26. Happy you feel that way Matt. I check in from time to time. Mostly lurk.

    For some reason a lot of baseball stat geeks have libertarian leanings. Couldn’t tell you why.

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