Protecting Honesty

by on Mar.14, 2011, under general

On Wednesday, I was happy to attend a conversation with Assistant SecState PJ Crowley at the MIT Center for Future Civic Media. On Saturday, I was saddened to learn that as a result of that conversation – specifically after characterizing the inhumane conditions of Bradley Manning’s detention as “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid” – Mr Crowley resigned his office.

The C4 meeting was intended to be an informal conversation between top-flight academics and a leading government official about social media and state policy. Mr Crowley was candid and forthright in his remarks. He provided wonderful insights about his challenges at State. And, when he agreed at the end of the talk that his informal comments could be on record, he did so presumably so that those not fortunate enough to physically attend could still profit from his wisdom and experience.

Mr Crowley’s job is was to represent the opinions of the Obama administration. And he did not do so accurately in this discussion. Some have argued that this discrepancy justifies his allegedly encouraged resignation.

However, Mr Crowley also stated clearly that these were his personal, not professional, beliefs. Candid, forthright discussions between policymakers and their constituents are a necessary condition for a functioning republic. All law may be politics, but not all policy need be positioning. And if a public official can’t speak honestly in a conversation with leading academics at MIT’s center for civic media, then there is no safe space left for honesty in governance.

Accordingly, I have added my name to an open letter issued by attendees in support of Mr Crowley. Will it accomplish anything? Probably not. But the least I can do to support someone who as candid as Crowley is to be just as forthright on his behalf. Because, under the circumstances, the resignation of PJ Crowley is ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid.

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