The Not So Transparent Presidency of Barack Obama

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is it my imagination, or is President Obama getting smaller and smaller? Of course not. It must just be that the illusion of his grandeur is fading in the harsh light of his politics-as-usual Administration.

On Friday, January 23, 2009, just 3 days after his inauguration, President Obama issued a “Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies” on the subject of “Transparency and Open Government.” It was touted to be an historic document, and began with these words… (The use of italics is in the original.)

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing.”

Impressive, but not, as it turns out, in a good way. What’s impressive about it, we now know, is how meaningless it has turned out to be. Words without substance. Intent without execution.

Yesterday, as reported by several sources including, for example, the New York Times, the Administration admitted to having made a deal with representatives of the pharmaceutical manufacturers to get behind the Obama plan for healthcare reform. Not incidentally, this deal was struck an industry trade group, aka “lobbyists” of the sort Candidate Obama promised to rid Washington once and for all. What President Obama got was the promise of $80 billion of costs reductions over 10 years – which isn’t all that much, by the way – but in return for what? In return for concessions related to our government negotiating prices and encouraging the import of medicines from Canada.

The value of this deal to Americans is a matter for debate, but not here. One thing is pretty much certain. Whatever The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America – which is the name of the industry trade group with which the Administration struck this backroom deal without the knowledge or participation of Congress or the American People… that whatever they gave up, they got back, and then some from a President desperate to succeed, but without the maturity and experience to do it right. Well spoken, to be sure, he’s a politician nonetheless.

This piece isn’t about healthcare reform per se. It’s about promises and bullshit. (My apologies for the vulgarity, but sometimes a good 8 letter word says it best.) It’s about a President who doesn’t believe in what he writes and says. As it turns out, the only transparent government he was talking about is the government he wants us to see.


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