Americans are rightly proud of how openly our various governments operate. Not relative to some communitarian utopia, of course, but relative to other actual, real governments around the world. We generally accept the principle of openness as a condition of appropriately conducting the people’s business. There are a great many so-called sunshine laws at the federal, state and local level, which require meetings, of legislatures, for example, to be generally open to the public unless there’s a damn good reason to close them.
Therefore, when the government’s work happens in private, Americans tend to be suspicious; and our history has taught us that our suspicions are often well-founded. Some of these closed-door events have included matters legitimately requiring secrecy, such as the conduct of war and national security operations. Fair enough, we’d all likely agree. But frequently, when government business is done in some dark backroom, it is purposefully done so to achieve certain inappropriate political aims, or simply to save face.
Case in point: Yesterday, the Missouri legislature decided to honor conservative radio commentator Rush Limbaugh, adding his name and bust to the Hall of Famous Missourians, alongside legitimate luminaries who actually contributed to our national life; people such as Walter Cronkite, Harry S. Truman, Scott Joplin, John Pershing, among others. And because the legislature knew this honor would polarize the electorate and draw the ire of certain political actors, they did so in a private ceremony from which the public was explicitly barred.
That the Missouri state legislature chose to honor this man next to true giants of politics, art and culture, who “comically” discusses the joys of rape, refers to women on his national radio program as “sluts,” and holds himself as a self-righteously judgmental expert on traditional marriage (Well, he has been married 4 times so, in some sense, he can be considered expert in at least the wedding part of marriage.), is bad enough. Doing so away from the people’s eyes is beneath the dignity of our democracy and the trust Missourians have placed in their elected representatives.
Shame on you.