“In times like the present, men should utter nothing for which they would not willingly be responsible through time and eternity.” — December 1, 1862, Abraham Lincoln
Parameters. I am familiar with the good old boy system and its effect on our political system. In fact, I know it better than most. Over the past 30 years, I have studied it, I have deplored it, and I have been an active participant in trying to get rid of it through legal, fact based, and judicial means.
I recognize it when I see it, and criticize it, and those who participate in it, to anyone who will listen. And, as far as I know, I have never been a part of participating in it or doing anything to extend the practice. I have always felt, and continue to feel so today, that this practice is detrimental to honesty and openness in government in every way. I’m not sure that I can express my views any clearer. If there is anyone who doubts how I really feel about this topic, I encourage you to investigate my career and scope of work as it applies to this topic. Review my writings, my reputation among my peers; whatever you feel necessary to convince yourself that I am steadfastly opposed to this practice.
Now, having said that, let me also say that all politics are not bad politics; despite what we may hear. Openness and honesty in government is obviously essential. There are those who will never be satisfied with whatever thresholds, or checks and balances that may be in place no matter what the level. Political “Watchdogs” are becoming as commonplace as any other breed at the New York Dog Show.
Not only are they growing in number, they can also become very loud in their bark and in some cases could be defined as vicious. And that, in itself, is not always a bad thing. Getting to the root of any unethical or criminal behavior, if that be the case, is much more dependent on first hand information being disseminated to the proper officials than any other options that we have access to.
Law enforcement has taught us that most of our success comes when we are pointed to the right direction by an informed source. Information disseminated from outside official channels is as much a part of the debilitation of crime as the most detailed investigation can ever create. And that includes any case that I have ever been involved in. Political corruptness is only successful when people keep their mouths closed. Fortunately, that is hardly ever the case.
Loose lips sink ships and loose lips also send people to prison. However, historically this information has been passed on in a quiet and unassuming manner that would lead officials to the proper direction. The giver of such information typically never wanted to be credited for supplying the information, they simply wanted the information brought to the forefront. Such subtlety and behind the scenes participation is not the style of the much more vocal and often grandstanding watchdogs.
They speak at any opportunity as they attack any signs of good old boyness, and girlness as well, and are as familiar with the microphone as any seasoned pundit. They will take the most innocuous comments made by elected officials and turn them into something vile for headlines, talking points, sound bytes, or social media “Likes.” They are very quick with their tweets, their blogs, their radio phone calls, letters to the editors, and any other way possible of getting out their message.
Watchdog information can be very useful if used in the right way. However, for some of these very loud barkers, the bark that they are getting out is not nearly as important as them being recognized as being the barker. It is even more valuable if their bark is memorialized in photo, audio, or video means. Their reputation as “The Peoples Watchdog,” even if they are self proclaimed, is the ultimate goal. It’s could be categorized as some form of vigilantism. But instead of using a cape and some typically unattractive tights, they use the media.
For some, they have reverted to a never-ending series of open record request, even when they really have no idea of whether the hunt will produce anything at all. Clerks Offices are spending countless hours each day satisfying these unwarranted searches, which in fact is a product of the very idea that Watchdogs claim to hate; wasteful sending. They request records, which by law do not fall into the open records category, and then make accusations that something smells bad when the records requests are denied. If they dislike the smell, it is an odor that should be taken up with the Supreme Court, not a blog of half-truths and personal opinion.
Innuendos, without foundational basis, fly through the airways, like a windy day at Wrigley Field yet no one is held responsible when those baseless innuendos end up as a foul ball or often as a strike out all together. When nothing shows up, they are quick to say that the search was worth the effort to put an issue to rest once and for all. What they won’t say is maybe there was never an issue in the first place until they concocted it.
We have reached a point where the “everyone will have 15 minutes of fame” notion has turned into much more than that. Some are creating their 15 minutes of fame on the backs of undeserving people whose stress will last well beyond those 15 minutes.
Political watchdogs and the information that they produce is as important as any information; that would have never have been known if not for their help. Obviously there are many groups who truly attempt to hold our politician feet to the fire when it comes to matters of ethics, honesty, and good government through honest representation. This is not about them. This is about those so called Political Watchdogs who do what they do, for their own band standing and political agendas, all at someone else’s expense, and are every bit as dangerous to the very system that they claim to be watching.
Politicians who knowingly abuse the system must be held accountable and those who abuse the system by attacking others without any foundational basis, for public notoriety, all in the name of being political Watchdogs, should be accountable as well. What a gift it is to live in a country where we can openly state our opinions without fear of retribution. But some of these Watchdogs have trouble separating opinion from fact. Fact is based on reliable, undeniable and examinable evidence. Opinion is based on nothing similar to fact. It is just what the person happens to believe. Some Watchdogs should learn the difference before saying the things that they say and presenting these statements as facts. But…that is just my opinion. See how easy that was!
This unchecked behavior has consequences that are far reaching. Good honest people, who would make great political leaders, are deciding to forgo public service due to the fact that they do not want their names, and their families to be undeservingly smudged and defiled by someone who enjoys playing a dangerous version of “Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who’s The Nastiest Barker of All.”
Everyone likes dogs. But we all know that a bad dog is one that should be kept at a distance. And when a bad dog turns into a rabid dog, the bite can be deadly, even when unprovoked. Not only to its victim, but to the neighborhood in which it roams. I will however give some of them credit for at least using their names despite the inaccuracies that they have produced. There is a level even below them that does all of this, and more, and does it anonymously. They are not called political Watchdogs. They are called cowards.
If we really want to change what we perceive as wrong, and there is plenty of it, maybe we should try putting ourselves in a position to really make that change. It’s very easy to sit in front of a keyboard and criticize. It is much more difficult to put yourself in a position where you might be the one being criticized. We don’t all have to walk a mile in political shoes before we can complain. But we should at least recognize what it takes to put the shoes on each day. And, we should also recognize that every political shoe does not need a corrective arch. Some actually fit very well. That is of course until they are nipped at the hill by a bunch of disobedient dogs to the point that the wearers pick another line of shoes all together. Of course, it is the soft or no sole, minimal foundation one size fits all, sneakers that are obviously the preferred line of footwear worn by the nippers. And, to those loud and often ear piercing barkers…if the shoe fits, spare us!
Stan L. Hall is the executive director of the Gwinnett Sports Commission and Gwinnett Convention and Visitors Bureau.