Transparency, said President Barack Obama in a memo not long after he took the oath of office, was going to be a "touchstone" of his administration. His advisors then gathered around, breaking into a paroxysm of giggles interlaced with assurances to each other that dumbbell Americans would actually buy this stuff.
What fun to have power, they laughed. What fun!
OK, true enough, I cannot vouch for any post-promise merriment, but I can vouch that it did not take all that long for the administration to emulate former Vice President Dick Cheney’s thoroughly castigated private meetings with top energy executives working with him on policy issues. The public did not learn what was said or who attended. Especially among liberals, suspicion of dastardliness was high.
The Obama version was to meet secretly with coal executives while devising the content of a cap-and-trade global warming tax, explaining that presidential communications are privileged and did not fall under the Freedom of Information Act. Judges had differed with that idea, and so did Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which filed suit and, then, not too much later had reason to try again to get the names of people visiting the White House for sessions on the nation’s future.
This time it was health care executives on hand to lend their ideas and expertise about health-care legislation. The administration at first resisted divulging the names, but finally did — which is hardly the same as saying we can now figure on the steadfast openness which once upon a time was guaranteed by Obama himself.
Take a glance, for instance, at the Environmental Protection Agency. According to a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, Alan Carlin, a senior analyst with EPA’s National Center for Economics, had the temerity along with a colleague to produce a paper casting doubt on global warming theory and especially on the reliability of computer models predicting catastrophe down the pike. His boss made it clear that the thesis was contrary to policy and the paper would not be allowed out the door.
I missed the liberal outcry on this, as opposed, say, to what we heard when NASA’s global warming alarmist James Hansen whined that his press releases might be reviewed before being released during the Bush administration. No such reviews ever took place, which hardly stopped one outraged commentator from complaining that we were now in an era reminiscent of Josef Stalin’s viciously controlling discourse in the Soviet Union. Hansen, the Journal piece reminds us, had given hundreds of speeches on the terror of warming, many of them during the Bush years.
Look next at what’s been happening in Congress, votes on nation-altering legislation roughly as transparent as a stonewall is transparent, last-minute concoctions of 1,000 pages and more that not a single member of Congress could conceivably have had time to read. For that matter, few if any members could have had a grasp of any number of important elements in these bills even through the second-hand summaries, which is to say, the democratic process was rendered meaningless. Then-Sen.Obama had pointedly complained when Republicans did this sort of thing in the Bush years. Now, as president, he was cheering on rush-job legislating as crucial to the common good.
Obama is more nearly Mr. Obfuscation than he is Mr. Transparency, as he showed during the campaign when he failed to tell us anything much about his passport or medical records, his clients as a lawyer or his college records. Even if you hold hands with him on some of his secrecy then and now, a point to consider is that this is a politician like so many who talk one way and behave another, not someone refreshingly candid and different, just someone who is very good at an old game.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)