OP-ED | We Need Information to Vote and Govern
We sometimes forget that government and politics are two different functions. The connection — of course — is that if you win at politics, you get to govern.
Someone really smart — I forget who — observed that it takes different skills to gain power and to govern. This is very true. Historically, wars determined who ruled, and it is no different today. Gaining power requires an aggressive personality. Governing is more art than science. Equanimity is more important than blood lust.
As we enter the campaign season, we should be sensitive that the election process does not overly corrupt how we govern. Specifically, we should be sensitive to the competing versions of information.
Identifying one party as more virtuous than another is a complete waste of time. Both fight in the mud and get dirty. It is the election process that lacks integrity, and it bleeds into how we govern. The lack of “truthfulness” is destroying many civic values, primarily the belief in government. This will become painfully clear as the campaign unfolds and candidates “debate” the issues that will determine how we vote.
In a perfect world, a campaign would be the process whereby candidates review the same information and propose how we can do better.
Today, the same issues have different “facts” depending on who is talking:
• We added jobs, but the economy is constricting.
• More people are working than four years ago, but the median income is down.
• We have a deficit, I mean surplus, I mean deficit.
• Unemployment is down, unless you add the long-term unemployed. Then it’s up.
• Connecticut has the widest academic achievement gap, but some of the nation’s highest academic achievement — if you exclude the cities.
• Crime is at a 50-year low, except in the neighborhoods where we spend the most money on criminal justice.
• Our state has low corporate taxation, but we are an unfriendly state for business.
• We have the highest per-capita debt and highest debt service, or we are in the middle of the pack among states.
Forget whether government has the information needed to govern. The above would imply that it does not — or if it does, it is not sharing.
More importantly, we do not have enough information to vote.
A confused electorate is easy to fool, and politicians know this fact. More importantly, people stop caring. Increasingly, when they do care they simply say “enough.” No more. This is happening across the country. Enter the Tea Party.
I fervently believe that the electorate — regardless of party — wants to do the right thing and will agree upon goals if given real information.
Conflicting information about issues capable of being understood with real data results in two things: Partisanship and apathy. Neither is good for democracy.
You will always be correct if you can choose your own facts. There are, however, better ways to understand the impact of our annual $20 billion investment and how we float an additional $20 billion in debt. Promoting an objective analysis of this investment will strengthen democracy and our faith in government.
What happens during a 20-year period when you invest more in prisons than in secondary education in a state where the economy is constricting? Where the workforce is aging? What happens when you don’t invest in transportation? These are not partisan questions. We all want public safety, low unemployment and easy access to work.
The truth will not reveal itself overnight. We are at a unique point in history. A brutal campaign will soon make your head spin. The misinformation of a campaign can serve as a springboard into a new method of analyzing our state’s policies, or lack thereof.
When the dust settles, we will have four more years and new opportunities to create standard tools to evaluate the impact of our public investments. There are more open data initiatives than you can shake a stick at and the legislature will begin a comprehensive review of our revenue and taxation structure in 2015.
Whatever your issue, advocate and go deep. Explore what happens when we make choices. Honestly, it is up to you.
That is the truth.
Brian O’Shaughnessy of New Haven is a principal in the firm Community Impact Strategies Ltd. The mission of CIS is to facilitate the investment of public and private capital for the purpose of creating measureable improvements in human productivity and living conditions.