Maybe people wouldn't use it everyday, but if they felt that if they needed this information, they could get it, then they wouldn't feel like there was sort of a shroud of secrecy around government.
It calls for a real sea change in the way government people think about information. People provide the information and they're providing the cost through taxes. They are part of that system. It ought to be a free-flow across that artificial boundary that we say is government and non-government. That gives people a stake of ownership, a feeling that what's in there is theirs.
GT: You were in public life for over 20 years. What are some factors that have brought us to this point where people are demanding that this shroud of secrecy be gone, that they are able to access information quickly and effectively and so on? Ten years ago, I would assume that these demands weren't voiced with nearly as much volume.
Baker: You're quite right. I used to teach political science, and one of the things polls have shown is a steady erosion of confidence. People often say it started with Watergate and I would have to agree partially with that. I don't think it's only Watergate, but I do think that did tend to move government as an agency that you sort of trusted to one that you didn't trust, that you were ready to believe the worst about. If the government had been looked at under a microscope, whether it was Johnson, Nixon or any other president, it might have ended with the same kind of situation.
That particular series of events did have a conditioning attitude on a generation of young people at that time who really became skeptical if not cynical about government.
I think other things contributed, too. One was the Cold War and the sense that there are certain things that have to be kept secret and that it was in their interest not to know certain things. And people accepted it. It certainly was a persuasive thing in terms of people's mentality about government.
Part of it too is just pure complexity. Just the fact that government has grown and grown and grown, its intrusions into our daily lives, all extending from well-intended purposes. If you put all those things together -- the Cold War, Watergate, growing complexity and size of government and interdependence of people in this kind of society -- those are the things that contributed to this distrust of government.
And I think it's reached epic proportions. If you look at a Perot-type candidate, someone outside the whole normality of this system, getting one out of every five votes in the last general election, it tells you that people are ready to look in a new direction. One of the things that has come out of analyzing those results is that many of those people who voted for Perot did not agree with each other on a lot of things. They just agreed that they wanted to see a change in the system.
GT: What are some of the ways out of this? As you said earlier, putting more information online is one way to deal with distrust of government. But this isn't going to solve the whole problem.
Baker: People's hostility will decrease as government functions are brought to the states and the localities from the federal level. And you hear that from both parties, it's not just a partisan thing. Part of it is because the budget deficit is huge. An American political philosophy is that the more local officials feel that the public can look over their shoulder, the more cautious they are, whether it's spending money or starting a new program.