In 1853 Herman Melville ended his renowned short story "Bartleby, the Scrivener" with the famous line: "Ah, Bartleby! Ah, Humanity!" In 2010 I find myself wanting to scream a similar stentorian declaration mdash; admittedly different in substance, but comparable in style: "Ah, Obama! Ah, Transparency!"
President Barack Obama made many illustrious campaign promises throughout the 2008 election season. Although many of these pledges could be explained away by savvy politicking, one such declaration continues to haunt and stalk the president. When describing the need for health care reform and the requisite debates any proposed legislation on the issue would bring, the didactic Obama made what now appears to be a foolish vow.
He said during the January 2008 CNN debate in a segment regarding health care negotiations that he would "bring all parties together ... broadcasting those negotiations on C-SPAN so that the American people can see what the choices are because part of what we have to do is enlist the American people in this process."
Very wisely said, but very poorly followed-through-upon. Breaking down this statement, it contains hardly any correlation with the current manifestation of the health care reform debate. All parties have not been brought together, almost all of the substantive negotiations have taken place behind closed doors and outside the purview of C-SPAN, and the American people are lacking a way to become enlisted in the process.
This is unfortunate, because despite liberal screeches about it being the "Party of No," the GOP has actually proved to be worth its salt in this debate (a stark contrast from its performance toward the end of the Bush years). The Republicans have advanced real ideas ranging from much-needed tort reform, increased interstate insurance competition and the reduction of the power of the insurance lobbies in state legislatures. Similarly, average Americans have shown an eager interest to participate in the discussion as shown by the nearly unprecedented turnout at congressional town hall meetings across the country last year.
The purpose of Obama's transparency pledge was noble: limit special interests and work toward making D.C. more responsive to the American people. After Harry Reid's race to 60 votes - which blatantly included such now infamous cut-outs such as Sen. Nelson's "Cornhusker Kickback," Sen. Landrieu's "Louisiana Purchase," soon retiring Sen. Dodd's $100 million for the University of Connecticut's medical center and Big Labor's special exemption from the Cadillac package excise tax mdash; special interests and political favors reign supreme.
Sure, politics has always included some degree of sketchiness, but never before have such large-scale examples been visible in a piece of legislation that seeks to reshape one-seventh of the U.S. economy.
Even more upsetting than Obama's deference to this deal-making is his willingness to let the negotiations take place behind closed doors. It may sound cliche to continually pine for more light to be brought to the health debate, but as the Senate and House meet to merge their respective bills, the American people deserve a front-row seat.
I have yet to find a Democrat who has been able to satisfactorily answer a simple question that I often posit to them: What's to fear? Are you afraid that more public negotiations will stall the blitz to reform? With a current supermajority in D.C., the health overhaul train seems hard to stop at this point. Is their fear about the American people not liking what they see when those doors are open?
Well, that is probably true - they wouldn't. And given that this is supposed to be a government "of the people, by the people, and for the people" (to steal from one of Obama's favorite former presidents he so often likes to cite), that is all the more reason to allow Americans to enlist themselves in this process as Obama once suggested.
Many are comparing this obvious contradiction by Obama to George H. W. Bush's "read my lips, no new taxes" faux pas in 1988. References to a Waterloo moment aside, Obama needs to be held accountable for this vexing tartuffery. At the very least, any bill that the majority of Americans are opposed to (as the polls now unanimously suggest) deserves an open and balanced debate.
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