In the middle of the recent fight over the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, White House adviser Kellyanne Conway stepped before a camera to defend her boss, President Donald Trump.
“You want to question the timing of when he hires, when he fires,” she told CNN. “It’s inappropriate.”
Gosh, that’s a scary statement.
Questioning elected officials about their decisions is not only appropriate, it’s essential. And not just for reporters: All Americans are entitled to explanations from elected officials about policy.
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It’s the basis of everything we do in government and politics.
Were Conway’s remarks an isolated case, there would be little cause for concern. But there’s growing evidence other public officials share her view — that questions need be answered only every couple of years at the voting booth.
After that? Be quiet.
In February, presidential aide Stephen Miller defended the Trump administration’s travel ban after federal court judges said it was unconstitutional.
He got the first part right. The second part is not just wrong, it’s dangerous.
And Miller should know that, because he was questioning a court’s decision. That, too, is an American right.
This toxic approach to the citizen’s role in questioning his or her government is seeping into the heads of state and local officials. It’s why town halls are growing more scarce and why attendees are often prescreened. It’s why some politicians have stopped answering their phones.
It’s why a certain governor appears to believe he need not speak to reporters. And it’s why some local officials — I’m looking at you, Mayor Sly James — sometimes suggest questions about policy are not only ill-informed but illegitimate.
I’m not saying the public has a right to stop the mayor at dinner and demand an answer on snow removal. The right to question public officials is subject to time, place and manner restrictions, just like most political speech.
But holding elected officials to account is an essential part of self-government. We can’t elect council members and senators and governors and walk away. We must ask questions and get answers.
That’s especially true in this country, where elected officials are the servants. Here, the people are at the top of the organizational chart.
Like many Kansas Citians, I’m worried about the ease of collecting petition signatures to force votes on contentious issues.
I’m irritated with policy gadflies who show little interest in actually knowing what they’re talking about before plunging into issues.
And I believe, like Edmund Burke, that elected officials must use their judgment, not just ask for a show of hands. We can’t vote on everything.
But opinions still matter. It’s why this newspaper devotes two pages each day to opinions, including voices and questions from the public.
Gadflies and petitioners — and journalists — are an essential nuisance. They play a critical role asking tough questions of the people who make decisions in our name.
To suggest otherwise is wrong. Or, as Kellyanne Conway might say, inappropriate.