Exit Big Brother - Enter Little Citizen

The politician is under non-stop surveillance − and the responses to his behavior also flow continuously. This new relationship raises a serious question: Is it possible to run a country under such circumstances?

There are kindergartens today that have video cameras installed, which enable parents to observe from a distance how the kindergarten teachers behave with their children. School teachers and principals are under close and continuous examination by the pupils' parents. Hospital doctors are to an unprecedented degree exposed to the criticism and the lawsuits of patients and their family members. And so are judges, who are evaluated by attorneys expressing their opinions about them in polls, and university professors, who are graded in questionnaires filled out by their students at the end of the semester. Israel Defense Forces officers are also examined, in real time, by the entire country, over their performance on the battlefield.

The modernization of the media and changing social and political concepts have led to a breakdown of the previous hierarchy and have resulted in the establishment of a new system of expectations operating between the public and those providing it with services. Just like the latest medical monitoring equipment enables doctors and their patients to probe into their innards and diagnose diseases and other problems while these are still in their early stages, the availability and speed of the communications equipment of the 21st century have made the decision-making processes of politicians transparent. Senior office holders in every area of the civil service, who in the past were untouchable, have now become accessible because of the constant and close presence of the media.

These changes led to a new relationship: Once it had a closer look at them and their weaknesses, the public lost its respectful attitude toward officials sitting at the top of the pyramid. The age of the Big Brother overseeing everyone was replaced by the age in which the little citizen is incessantly demanding accountability from his leadership.

Ehud Olmert is therefore not alone when he asks himself why he is being pestered over a list of insiders' names, drafted by one of his aides, especially when everyone knows that, by virtue of its nature, political power was designed to assist friends. Why, Olmert must surely be asking himself, is he being harassed over the names of 115 beneficiaries found in his papers, if everyone is doing it? Olmert did not realize in time that the bastards have changed the rules - and they are still changing them.

The constant demands made of civil servants, and foremost among them politicians, are in itself a private matter. Twentieth century democracy operated within a framework permitting elected officials relatively broad room for maneuvering and their authority was respected. In the 21st century democracy, the role of the individual is upgraded and his right to constantly challenge his representatives' decisions is accepted.

The interaction between the citizen and his representatives is not expressed only on election day, and also not in the monthly meetings at the party's branches, and not even in the dialogue they hold once in a while through the pages of the newspaper. Their dialogue is conducted 24 hours a day and it runs both ways: The politician is under non-stop surveillance - and the responses to his behavior also flow continuously. This new relationship raises a serious question: Is it possible to run a country under such circumstances? Can the government retain its ability to govern under such conditions?

There are signs suggesting that the answer to this query is negative: The rate of electoral participation is decreasing, the dissatisfaction with government performance is on the rise, faith in government institutions and its leaders is on the wane, and the turn toward alternative arenas for dialogue and means of influence ("civil society") is gaining ground. These are global phenomena but that is no consolation: Israeli society is going through a difficult period in which the authority of the government is being eroded on a daily basis. This phenomenon could have dangerous implications if, God forbid, the security situation deteriorates into a state of war.

The solution is not to return to the situation status quo ante: The rules have changed and that is a good thing. The solution lies in improving the performance of the service providers. The 21st century doctor knows he must meet severe requirements in order to perform his duty satisfactorily; normally, he does not give up on the profession but aspires to excel in it in order to meet the changing expectations of his patients (and receive a handsome return). This is an insight politicians must also embrace: Instead of complaining about the new conditions of their work - they have to get used to them. Instead of feeling nostalgic for the political culture of the Likud Central Committee - they should adopt the updated demands of the public to be honest, responsible, caring and efficient.