Sadly, we remain a society of secrets

Just when you think you know what’s going on in Washington under President Obama’s new open-government policy, you find out the place is still riddled with secrets.

There’s great excitement over the new health care package. Actually, there’s a House version and a Senate version. Actually, it turns out there are several Senate versions, all of which keep secret what they will cost and who will pay for them. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the go-to guy on health care, is still keeping his ideas a secret.

We’ve learned that its a big secret who in government talked to which big wigs in the messed-up financial services industry about who was talking over whom and what the rewards would be and what was to be done about bonuses and salaries.

We have been told that former Vice President Dick Cheney on his own secretly approved secret CIA assassination missions that never actually got under way although if they did, it’s still a secret. (Vice President Biden, there’s a lesson in there, somewhere.)

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, newly out of her sling after breaking her elbow (and sporting a new flip hairdo that is remarkably similar to that of her predecessor Condoleezza Rice), has laid out the intellectual foundation of her foreign policy in an important speech. But it’s still a secret what she thinks we will actually do to Iran or North Korea if they don’t give up their ambitions to be nuclear powers.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, still sporting her soft cast for a broken ankle, has been appearing non-stop in marathon confirmation hearings which point out again the truth of that old adage: Everything has been said but not everyone has said it. She has promised to be open-minded, wise but not overbearing, brilliant but not arrogant, truthful but not revealing. In short, it remains a secret what she truly believes about anything or what type of justice she would be on the Supreme Court.

She won’t even say whether she’d push for TV cameras in the courtroom when the nation’s highest court sits in open session although 61 percent of those surveyed by C-Span, which has a vested interest in boring TV, said they eagerly await SCOTUS on the airwaves.

Speaking of secrets, the old Watergate Hotel, near the complex that gave the name to the most famous government secrets in modern history, is in foreclosure and about to go to auction. Actually, it’s a secret which hotel it is although somebody smartly figured out that a 12-story hotel in direct proximity to the Watergate was the one on the block.

The stimulus or recovery plan that Congress and the Bush and Obama administrations cobbled together may or may not be working. Even as unemployment continues to climb and highway work crews are out in force, it is a secret about whether piling up a $1.8 trillion deficit is working to get our economy back on track or not. It’s a secret because nobody ever spelled out how we would know if it is working. (It doesn’t feel like it is working except, perhaps, to those guys on Wall Street who are still getting enormous bonuses.)

Obama promised to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by next January. But it’s still a secret which detainees will be released and which will stay in prison and where they will go and who will take them and what it will cost.

Next year is the crucial, all-important, vital, incredibly significant, Constitution-mandated census, taken every ten years. But it’s still a secret how it will be conducted, whether sampling will be permitted, which grass-roots groups will be permitted to help, how the poor will be measured, how politicization will be avoided and how the data will be interpreted. Yet the census will determine many facets of American life, from how many House seats each state gets to how much money individuals receive from government programs.

Were supposed to be an open society, but it often seems were a society of secrets.

(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986. E-mail amcfeatters(at)

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