Brian Birdnow
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Another area of mystery in the Barack Obama story is his level of association with controversial individuals, both private and public. The President turned his back on his spiritual mentor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, when the good Reverend turned out to be a political inconvenience and he has stuck to his story about barely knowing ex-Weatherman terrorist and murder Bill Ayers, who he dismissed as “…just some guy who lived in the neighborhood”. The President’s choice of personal friends may be questionable, but not controversial. His public associations, however, are very important and a truly open and transparent Administration would release documents and records concerning Obama’s dealings with disgraced ex-Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the previously mentioned shadowy Tony Rezko, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, and other Chicago politicos like the recently convicted “Fast Eddie” Vrdolyak and former Mayor Harold Washington. Obama has refused to answer about his public associations with the Chicago machine and, if he means what he said last week, this should now be a subject of legitimate inquiry.

Finally, we move to the year 2009, the first year of the Obama Presidency. An “open and transparent” approach to secrets would certainly include a thorough debate on health care, which would start with reading the bill on the Senate floor. President Obama has urged the legislative branch to pass a bill that he admits he has never read. Reading this monstrosity publicly would be a useful first step, although this would lead to the defeat of the bill, so the President understandably fears transparency here. Regardless of the health care debate a “transparent” government would waive all claims of executive privilege and would allow the testimony of Obama’s vaunted “czars” in response to Congressional inquiries concerning the faithful execution of the laws and statutes of the United States government by the executive branch. Last November the President flatly refused to allow the czars to testify before Congress and cited Executive Privilege as his defense in ruling out this possibility. This rings suspiciously Nixon-like in its phraseology, but the Democratic majority in Congress is unlikely to contest the matter.

Once again we see the President resorting to high-blown rhetoric, trumpeting notions of good government based on truth and honest dealing. Once again we see the President falling woefully short of these ideals in both his past and present affairs. President Obama remains secretive, guarded, and inaccessible about his past associations (both public and private) and his current public actions and his Administration is following suit. In response to his call for a greater “open and transparent” system when dealing with official secrets Conservatives will be excused when we say: Mister President, heal thyself!

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Brian Birdnow

Brian E. Birdnow is a historian and teaches at a university in the St. Louis area.