Mark Hemingway on What Happens When Open Government Slams Shut



On March 2, The New York Times revealed that Democratic Party presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton had used a private email account to conduct official business for her entire four-year tenure as secretary of state. Clinton emailed President Barack Obama on an insecure server hosted in her own home. She destroyed many of her own messages, as she admitted after the Times article; the State Department had to conduct negotiations with her lawyers to get their hands on what remained of her official records. One can safely conclude that Hillary Clinton was more concerned about shielding her correspondence from scrutiny by American taxpayers than by foreign intelligence services.

Clinton's defenders made several half-hearted attempts to justify her behavior, but it was longtime aide Paul Begala who cut to the heart of the matter. "Voters do not give a shit about what email Hillary used," Begala told CNN. "They don't even give a fart."

It's depressing to contemplate, but as a strictly political calculation Begala may well be right. And here lies the paradox behind debates over government transparency: As Mark Hemingway explains, we don't know—and therefore have a hard time being outraged by—what we don't know.