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We Tried to Warn You, Obama

Why make a transparency pledge you couldn't keep?

7:06 PM, Jan 6, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Obama's taking a good shellacking after breaking his pledge to put health care negotiations on C-Span. Fred Barnes warned Obama in December 2008 about the trouble he'd created for himself on this issue and others:

Some of the trouble is self-inflicted, the product of an unrealistic campaign promise or Obama's unique idea for the architecture of his administration. Part comes from the political situation he's stepping into. And part is the result of Obama's political roots. The trouble begins the day he steps into the Oval Office.

Let's start with the foolish campaign boast. Obama said his transition and his presidency would be "transparent." Before and during the Democratic primaries, the phrase he used was "open and transparent." His campaign website said the Obama presidency would create "a new level of transparency."

Obama should have known better. Transparency or anything close to it in the White House won't happen. It's a standard that no president has ever met or tried to. That's because transparency is neither possible nor desirable. Deliberations and decision-making require privacy, even stonewalling at times. But that's not the problem. The press is. Reporters are bound to remind Obama of his promise, as one did last week. "You ran on a platform of transparency," the reporter said. "How difficult is all this having to wait to release your inquiry [on staff contacts with Blagojevich] when the American people expect transparency?" This was the respectful version of the questions about transparency that Obama will get as president.

The media are likely to be relentless on this point. Highlighting a president's failure to live up to a promise is a hardy perennial of Washington journalism. But reporters also have a vested interest in Obama's transparency promise. A White House with little or nothing hidden is every reporter's dream. So the media won't let this promise fade. Obama's boast will come back to haunt him.

Just trying to help out.

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