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Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Weak Excuses for Non Transparency

The Obama administration made an emphasis of their intention to be open and transparent when it was still the Obama campaign. Now, at a critical moment, the major decisions being made behind closed doors. In fact, multiple Fox News shows have a video of that closed door as a symbol of the lack of transparency of the process. Now, it should be noted that the Obama administration is not the first one to make critical decisions about legislation behind closed doors. In fact, that's pretty much something all administrations have done. Yet, this one made a point that they would be different and this is one way they would be different.

Because there's no excuse for making these critical decisions behind closed doors, what's now happening is that defenders of the administration are making absolutely absurd defenses of this lack of transparency. First, defenders claim that this has been a transparent process. They say that multiple hearings, town halls, and debates were all televised and only the final part of the process is done behind closed doors. That maybe so but the beginning of the process was a dog and pony show. None of it ultimately matters. After five different bills, thousands of hours of debate, no one can say what will be in the final version of the bill. So, the part that has been transparent is the part that ultimately doesn't matter.

This past spring, I attended a local meeting in which candidates made speeches in their attempt to replace Mike Quigley from his position on the Cook County Board. (Quigley, by then, had won to replace Rahm Emanuel in Congress) After the speeches, a group of politicians went into a back room to debate and vote amongst themselves to decide who would replace Quigley. To say that this process has been transparent because everything so far has been open is the equivalent of those politicians saying the same thing about that process. The most important part of the process in both situations was the one decided behind closed doors.

The other excuse is when a defender dismisses this lack of transparency as long as there will be plenty of time to examine the final bill. That's even more absurd. The final bill will be upwards of 2000 pages. The public can have a year to examine it and most still won't have a clue what's in it. In 2000 pages, there's so much space for side deals it's endless. So, if the process of crafting the bill is non transparent, the public will never know which deals were made. Right now, dozens of deals are being made in order to secure votes and support and the public doesn't know which special interest is getting favorable treatment.

The problem is that this is all too familiar. The problem is that this all too familiar process is exactly what President Obama, when candidate Obama, promised would change. He was a candidate with scant experience and accomplishments. Instead, he was supposed to be different. He's no different and there's no excusing that.

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