The Right Way to Oppose President Loophole

“Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,”

– Barack Obama

With the 44th President of these United States safely O-naugurated, the foul miasma of fear and secrecy that hung over Capitol Hill for so long has finally begun to lift, ushering in a glorious New Age of transparency and openness:

As a search of whitehouse.gov caches through the site archive.org shows, the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations often featured transcripts of their daily press briefings easily accessible on the Web site. In the case of the Bush administration, this writer can attest that transcripts of daily briefings often appeared within a few hours after having concluded.

But, as the Obama White House page declares, “Change Has Come to America,” with the new administration failing to have a place on the White House Web page for daily press briefings.

The redesigned Web home for the Obama administration went live at noon on Tuesday, and contains a “Briefing Room” page that contains seven sections, including a blog, a weekly video address archive, and an archive for press pool reports, but no section for the daily press briefings.

What’s more, the press pool reports section as of Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET remains empty and may ultimately end up being scrapped. As Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut reported yesterday on the paper’s Web site, the White House press corps is rather possessive of its pool reports and won’t make them available to the White House for publication.

Our new President’s admirable dedication to transparency continues with this bit of fun from the Associated Press. Apparently, The So-Called “Free” Press Shall Distribute No Unauthorized Images of The One:

News organizations that cover the White House sparred with the Obama administration on Thursday over access issues for photographers and rules for briefings.

Representatives from Obama’s press office held a conference call with photo editors, who are concerned that the administration prefers distributing photos taken by a White House photographer in cases where photojournalists have been permitted access in the past. It was unclear whether the two sides had reached any accommodation.

It’s a good thing both Barack Obama and Joe Biden are constitutional law experts – it’s going to take a long time to repair all the damage from 8 years of allowing Barney the White House terrier to shred the Bill of Rights and savage Gitmo detainees. Fortunately, there’s a new air of Openness and cooperation at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue…

Reuters and the AP have refused to use the “official” photos of conferences issued by Obama’s press office.

This same AP story also reports that Team Obama has refused permission for news agencies to use the actual names of administration officials issuing info on “background” even though every president before Obama has allowed the citation of administration official’s names.

The Associated Press also questioned on Thursday why reporters were not allowed to use the names of administration officials giving a background briefing on issues regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.

Background briefings are hardly new in Washington, and were frequently conducted during the Bush and Clinton administrations. But the AP wanted to establish early with the administration that it’s important to get information on the record as often as possible, said Michael Oreskes, managing editor for U.S. news.

“Information is a lot more valuable to the public if you know where it’s coming from,” Oreskes said. “So we try very hard in all source situations to identify sources as fully as we can.”

Naturally, Obama’s office stonewalled the concerns.

The irony here is palpable. The problem with overpromising is that the real world rarely allows us to hew to bright lines drawn in self righteous rhetoric. Barack Obama had several months to think about his nominations and the actions he would take during his first week in office.

A man who has continually assured us he will govern in a careful and bipartisan manner has absolutely no need to issue sweeping executive orders. Yet Obama chose, for some reason we will never know, to issue two orders that cannot help but cause him to backtrack from the lines he has drawn in the sand.

One cannot help but observe two things about our new President:

1. His actions don’t match his rhetoric.
2. He seems to believe in strict accountability… for everyone but him.

Perhaps that big “O” in Obama stands for “loophole”, as in, “I may have said x, y, or z, but there’s a big, gaping loophole in that strict rule for moi”. It is good to be King, n’est pas?

Tax loopholes for my Treasury nominee, lobbying loopholes and ethics waivers for my deputy SecDef, torture loopholes in case I decide terrorists really are dangerous after all, partisanship loopholes for winners….

It is to laugh.

Fortunately for those of us who don’t always agree with the incoming administration, we’ve spent the last eight years being told the highest duty of any American (contra our new President) is not unity, but the loud and vociferous expression of patriotic dissent. It would be encouraging (as well as more productive) to see the Right express that disagreement in a more dignified and respectful manner than has often been the case on the Left.

But express it we should: civilly, dispassionately, and without resorting to cheap personal attacks or the kind of rabid emotionalism that alienated and outraged us for the last 8 years. I loved Juan William’s words in the Wall Street Journal recently. I think they offer a sterling guide for conservatives in dealing with this President:

It is neither overweening emotion nor partisanship to see King’s moral universe bending toward justice in the act of the first non-white man taking the oath of the presidency. But now that this moment has arrived, there is a question: How shall we judge our new leader?

If his presidency is to represent the full power of the idea that black Americans are just like everyone else — fully human and fully capable of intellect, courage and patriotism — then Barack Obama has to be subject to the same rough and tumble of political criticism experienced by his predecessors. To treat the first black president as if he is a fragile flower is certain to hobble him. It is also to waste a tremendous opportunity for improving race relations by doing away with stereotypes and seeing the potential in all Americans.

Yet there is fear, especially among black people, that criticism of him or any of his failures might be twisted into evidence that people of color cannot effectively lead. That amounts to wasting time and energy reacting to hateful stereotypes. It also leads to treating all criticism of Mr. Obama, whether legitimate, wrong-headed or even mean-spirited, as racist.

This is patronizing. Worse, it carries an implicit presumption of inferiority. Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.

To twist President Obama’s words slightly, this is the moment in which not only Obama, but we as conservatives will be tested. Are we truly men and women of principle, or are we merely shameless partisans who will use each misstep, each minor fumble as a “gotcha” moment? Do we want this country to succeed? If so, we ought to give this President a fair chance, oppose him on matters of principle but fairly and without personal rancor. Adhering to our own highest ethical standards is not only the right thing to do, but ensures that when we take him to task for violating his own standards, we are not guilty of hypocrisy.

That ought to matter to us as conservatives. I hope it always will.

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