City on a Hill

Rosslyn, Arlington, VA

DC proper is mostly flat and devoid of skyscrapers. Its hills, such as they are, sport cathedrals and/or seats of government at their highest points. So you can deduce just by looking at it that this picture is not of Washington. Right-o: you must cross the Potomac over Memorial Bridge to get this view of the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington, VA.

The “city on a hill” gets its start in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:14):

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.

To which John Winthrop added:

The eyes of all people are upon us.

You know it’s a catchy phrase because it was used by both John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. (Somewhere along the way it became a shining city, probably by conflation with the candle mentioned in the same biblical passage. Or maybe Reagan just liked the idea of America being SHINY.) It’s generally been used to say how important America is as an exemplar to enlighten the benighted world. But it also suggests that transparency and accountability are essential to moral credibility.

With today’s information technology, there’s no good reason why the overwhelming majority of what government does shouldn’t be available for scrutiny by the citizenry. Let’s see the paper trails and the budgets of all those agencies online.

The same goes for those who aspire to be in government: their finances and the sources and sums of money that go to support them should be fully documented. Let’s see who’s buying what for whom. It’s all very well to put your money where your mouth is, and to say that money=speech, but we are entitled to know who’s doing the “talking.” After all, an awful lot of political speech isn’t free speech… it costs a pretty penny. I’d like to know who’s paying for it; that might help me figure out what they expect to get in return.

A Year Ago: Ready

Pine tree on slope
The posture of this tree, leaning into the weather to come…
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5 Responses to City on a Hill
  1. Rakewell
    November 1, 2010 | 5:34 pm

    Obama repeatedly pledged during his campaign for more transparency in his administration. How has he done? For a useful summary, see:

    On the Democrats’ hypocrisy when it comes to complaining about undisclosed campaign contributions, see:


    Then there’s this recent commentary about Obama’s complaints about undisclosed campaign contributions, in the Washington Post from two disappointed liberals:

    “It astounds us to hear such charges from the president given that his presidential campaign in 2008 refused to disclose the names of all of its donors, and in past election cycles many liberal groups, such as the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress, refused to disclose their contributors.

    To be clear, we favor disclosure of every dollar spent and closing the disclosure loophole that exists as a result of the Citizens United ruling. But it is disingenuous for a president – particularly one whose campaign effectively dynamited the lone beachhead of public financing in American politics – to scream about money pouring in against his political interests.”

  2. NT
    November 2, 2010 | 4:06 am

    Here’s an organization that promotes transparency in government:

  3. john cassidy
    November 2, 2010 | 10:30 am

    Did a conservative just leave a comment on the site? Have we slipped into a parallel universe?

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