Brian Birdnow

News reports dated Tuesday, December 29th declare that President Obama has called for “a sweeping overhaul” of the federal government system of protecting classified information. The President insisted that “… no information may remain classified indefinitely” and signaled a new effort in making information public by instituting a four-year deadline for processing archival records relating to military and diplomatic operations during World War II, Korea & Viet Nam. This should prove an unqualified boon to historians and political scientists.

The President should be lauded for his commitment to this new “open and transparent system”. He is rediscovering one of his campaign themes after a year of operational stealth and guile in office. Conservatives should take the President at his word and test his sincerity. We can begin by requesting a number of personal items relating to the mysterious gaps in the official Obama biography. First, the President should release academic transcripts from his time at Occidental College. Despite the supposedly sterling academic credentials President Obama possesses he will not release these records. Why? The new “open and transparent” approach will clear up any lingering misconceptions concerning Obama’s academic preparation and his intellectual standing.

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We can next move to questions concerning the Obama family activities, especially records concerning First Lady Michelle Obama’s $350,000 salary for a job as Director of Community Relations at the University of Chicago Hospital when she actually lived with the family in the Washington D. C. area. Credible reports abound that the future First Lady earned an extravagant salary for no work and the Obama family can put these rumors to rest by practicing the transparency that they profess. Similarly, the Obama family can open records concerning the purchase of their Chicago townhome with the assistance of convicted felon Tony Rezko. An “open and transparent” approach to documents would answer many questions.

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!


Brian Birdnow

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