By Ron Bonjean, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Just like the BP camera has allowed us to watch millions of gallons of oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico after the collapse of the “Deep Horizon” oil rig, President Obama should install an Oval Office camera or “Oval Cam” in the White House after the botched handling of Rep. Joe Sestak’s job offer. [See who contributes to Sestak.]
The American people are starving for transparency. Time and again, they have been lied to or misled by government and private institutions. Politicians who offer it willingly are praised while those that reject it or begrudgingly accept it are scorned. Transparency demonstrates that leaders and companies are on the level. It means as President Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.” BP quickly learned that once the camera broadcast the oil leak to millions of people in real time, the company can’t turn it off without sparking conspiratorial outrage.
President Obama is now suffering the consequences of breaking his transparency promises. In a memorandum to heads of executive agencies on WhiteHouse.gov, he said, “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.”
But his administration’s actions speak louder than his memos or campaign promises. It refused to allow cameras into daily negotiations on the healthcare bill. Instead, White House officials used a televised staged summit as a mea culpa to the public. The recently held nuclear summit closed to the press corps also comes to mind.
At last week’s signing ceremony for the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act, the White House ironically restricted media access as the president signed a free press bill. The event was open only to a limited pool of reporters and photographers who provided a report to fellow journalists. Obama refused to take questions saying, “I’m not doing a press conference today.” And in a speech to graduating students at Hampton University in Virginia, the President chided the 24-7 news cycle and the rise of technology as a distraction from democracy.
Finally, the White House has needlessly suffered a week of bad publicity over whether they offered a job to Sestak so that Sen. Arlen Specter could easily win the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania. Administration officials were hammered by both Democrats and Republicans such as Sen. Dick Durbin and RNC Chair Michael Steele to come out with the facts. It is rather amusing to hear White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs say with a straight face that White House lawyers have looked into the matter and nothing inappropriate took place. Not to be cynical, but one wonders if those same lawyers will now get a raise, a better title and an extra week of vacation after coming to such a conclusion. Of course, these situations usually end up with a full disclosure of what happened. So why fight it? [See which industries donated the most to Durbin.]
For the past few years, Republicans have been watching from the sidelines, recovering from their major losses. While observing a Democratic majority that is struggling to lead, they know they must reconnect with Americans who voted with the other side in the 2008 elections. As the White House is overwhelmed with questions regarding its cover-up of the Sestak issue, House Republicans launched AmericaSpeaksOut.com as a start to rebuilding that bridge of transparency. By going online and creating conversations around issues and solutions, it begins a new dialogue between constituents and elected officials.
President Obama enlisted the support of millions of people online during the campaign, but has struggled to rekindle that original enthusiasm after he took office. If Republicans are lucky to get the majority back in the House and/or Senate, it will be much more challenging to lead than ever before. If they regain power, they must use it wisely and transparently or risk losing it for decades to come.