Fiscal Cliff talks should not be held in secret

One of the little discussed facts about the Fiscal Cliff negotiations between Democrats and Republicans, specifically the Obama administration and Rep. John Boehner and Sen. Mitch McConnell, is that they are private talks. The negotiations are not open to the public. There is no debate on the House or Senate floor, and what’s given to the media are sound bytes like Obama’s “I will not play that game,” or Boehner’s contention that the negotiations are “out of balance.” The fact is that these negotiations are taking place in rooms with people who are unknown to the American public, let alone even elected to represent their interests.

The negotiations should be taking place in a very public and open way. Americans, who just cast their votes in November, are not getting all the available and necessary information. Both sides will pay lip service to doing right by American voters, but they do they really mean it?

What’s occurring with both parties is divisive, power politics. Democrats think they have a fairly strong mandate with their 2012 election wins, while the GOP has to put up resistance for their base, if only to keep their sights on 2016. They’d rather usher potential 2016 contenders like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or John Huntsman into the media spotlight than deal with the fiscal cliff.

As the Sunlight Foundation, an advocate for open government, keenly observes, “The motivation for secrecy is to craft a narrative that both sides will be able to sell to their bases. Add to that a media that loves the narrative of conflict and we’ll get a steady stream of ‘insider’ updates about beer summits, ultimatums, and steady leadership that may or may not reflect what actually happens.”

It’s all theater or sleight-of-hand—jockeying for the hero’s prize. And to any rational observer it is insulting and highly un-democratic.

If Obama, Boehner and their respective parties were made to negotiate in public, we’d get more substance, and the people would have a greater understanding of the details and stakes. As it stands, we are trapped in a propagandistic theater. This is not what the American people deserve.

But don’t worry, folks, Obama and Boehner had a phone call today.