6-03 Whatever Works
By JAY MILLER
SANT FE -- A recent column of mine urged readers to tone down their responses to a previous column I had written about the current fight between Republicans and Democrats over filibustering.
I noted that although the parties stood on high-sounding principles, they have each argued the opposite position in the past and would again in the future.
That brought a response from John Bartlit of Los Alamos, along with a column he wrote about a year ago, making the same point on a different subject. I liked it so well, I asked to use it as a guest column.
Bartlit has been a volunteer environmental advocate in New Mexico since 1969. He holds a doctor's degree in chemical engineering and is state chairman of New Mexico Citizens for Clean Air and Water.
����A moment's glance finds people forever sifting through heaps of facts, picking out a few that support their prior opinion, and peddling the result as the one true picture based on fact. I call it goal-matched fact selection.
���� Look closer, and you see principles treated the same way. A cartoon and a recent rare exception put the face of reality on the habit.
���� Every society worthy of regard has a stock of sound principles, suitable for all occasions. These stores of rigor help us remain principled when we must deal with tough problems.
���� A while ago, a masterly cartoon in the paper served to break me up, as well as portray goal-matched principles in action.
���� Two autos wait at a light, with the two drivers (one elephant, one donkey) glaring at each other. Each car has two bumper stickers. The "GOP" car's slogans cry out: "FEDERAL BAN ON GAY MARRIAGE!" and "WILDERNESS LOGGING: LEAVE IT TO THE STATES." The "DEM" slogans declaim to all: "FEDERAL BAN ON WILDERNESS LOGGING" and "GAY MARRIAGE: LEAVE IT TO THE STATES."
���� The point is not which stand is better. The point is, everyone likes to hold a principled viewpoint, so after our opinion falls to us, we tie it to a principle picked from the general store. Goal-matched principle selection meets a human need.
���� Promoters of a cause like to mention only one principle at a time--the one that supports their goal of the moment. The public wrangling makes us forget that most issues simply represent the competition among values we all hold in common.
���� That is to say, what makes an issue an issue is that values, like principles, are not involved one at a time, as is argued. They appear in combination, thus, in conflict.
���� Yet a ray of hope beams; a splash of straight talk refreshes. I bring an uncommon story.
���� Wherever you stand in the spectrum, the straight talk comes from a surprising source: the Oil & Gas Journal (OGJ), July 5. The affair in question is the secret Energy Task Force Vice-President Dick Cheney named to advise him on energy policy. Or to be precise, the issue is the task force whose names he hid from the public.
���� The OGJ editorial begins: "The second-worst part of the lingering controversy over (Cheney's) Energy Task Force is the suspicion it casts over involvement of energy experts in the making of energy policy. The worst part is the specter of secrecy."
���� The editorial goes on to compare the merits of the two competing principles. The first principle is the one employed by the administration, namely, executive privilege, or as asserted in more stately attire, "the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers."
���� The Oil & Gas Journal this time favors the competing principle, namely, openness in the work of a democracy.
���� As the editorial explains, "Democrats were going to oppose the energy policy in any case and complain about who advised the task force, if names became available, or about secrecy, if they did not. Secrecy is by far the more legitimate object of scorn."
���� This analysis seems pretty straight to me. Score one for the OGJ.
���� Roughly 98 times in 100, the game of secrecy harms the secret side more than the information would. Bipartisan evidence includes Watergate and the Lewinsky affair. Still, impulse says try secrecy.
JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail) email@example.com