Editorial: Enough open government flip-flops, Mr. President

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama made much of the secrecy that defined George W. Bush's time in office. No more of that if voters chose him, the candidate proclaimed, and on his second day in office he vowed we'd see "an unprecedented level of openness in government."

That statement might be more accurate had he included the caveats, "if it's convenient or doesn't embarrass us."

Though Candidate Obama objected to Bush's efforts - up to and including invoking executive privilege - to keep aides from testifying before Congress on such matters as the firing of U.S. attorneys, he's now trying to shield White House social secretary Desiree Rogers from being grilled on a matter of significantly less importance. Last week, his office protected Rogers from having to answer questions from lawmakers about how a Virginia couple apparently crashed the recent state dinner given for the prime minister of India.

We'll say it again for emphasis: She is the social secretary. Rogers isn't a senior counselor of any kind. Her position doesn't involve offering up confidential advice critical to national security or being involved in internal deliberations over major policy matters - the usual reasons cited to explain why aides need to be free to speak their mind to a president without having to testify under oath.

Meanwhile, run-of-the-mill efforts to open up government have also hit roadblocks. In perhaps the most ironic demonstration of this, Justice Department officials earlier this week turned away reporters trying to cover a workshop explaining transparency and open records rules. The folks in charge claimed they wanted federal workers on hand to feel that they could speak freely. By contrast, a similar forum held by state government officials in Peoria last month welcomed the media - and the public - while the questions government workers posed suggested they weren't holding back.

In the past 11 months, the feds have also tried to withhold data on the kinds of cars being bought under the Cash for Clunkers program; on the rules governing meetings between lobbyists, campaign donors and administration officials; and a host of other topics.

This is part of a broader trend for the Obama administration. The president has already effectively reversed himself on presidential "signing statements" - those little memos presidents issue after okaying a new law in which they spell out the parts of it they don't plan to follow or enforce. That's a 180-degree turn from Obama's rhetoric on the stump. When former West Peorian and al-Qaida sleeper agent Ali S. al-Marri was moved back into the civilian court system, Obama & Co. essentially pre-empted a Supreme Court court ruling that could have clarified the constitutionality of holding enemy combatants, even though Candidate Obama had repeatedly objected to the practice.

Granted, things look mighty different from behind the desk in the Oval Office than they do from the outside looking in. An acknowledgement that the president has changed his mind - and an explanation of why - would be nice, but we wouldn't hold our breath. Even better, we could do without the constant reversals in the first place. From a credibility standpoint, consider these injuries self-inflicted.

On all counts here, Candidate Obama was certainly more right than President Obama is.

Peoria Journal Star