3:30 pm CST - January 25, 2013
Posted under On The Record
Texas Insider Report: Washington, D.C. – When the Secretary of State can appear before the United States Senate and say, with a straight face, that it’s immaterial whether the American people were given a candid description of how their countrymen came to be murdered, we’ve reached the point where shamelessness morphs into dereliction of duty.
Conservative critics of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were rightly exercised by her belligerent performance in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.
Clinton was a model of prevarication, particularly in a heated exchange with Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. Pressed by Johnson on why the Obama Administration had initially led the public to believe that the September terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi was the result of a spontaneous uprising, a sputtering Clinton barked,
“What difference at this point does it make?” (If you think this looks bad in print, check out the video).
The truth is, of course, that it makes a great deal of difference. There’s a huge distinction between an otherwise peaceful protest that unexpectedly spirals into violence and a coordinated terrorist attack. To put it in terms that Secretary Clinton might understand, it’s the difference between Occupy Wall Street and the Weather Underground.
It’s not just the fact that any clearheaded national security analysis requires a full understanding of what happened, however. It’s also a matter of principle. When the Secretary of State can appear before the United States Senate and say with a straight face that it’s immaterial whether the American people were given a candid description of how their countrymen came to be murdered, we’ve reached the point where shamelessness morphs into dereliction of duty.
This would be a stain on any Administration’s reputation for integrity, but it is doubly so for Barack Obama’s. Recall that Obama took office in 2009 pledging to run the most transparent administration in history. Then consider the record.
As a presidential candidate, Obama pledged to put all pieces of legislation online for at least five days prior to signing them, in order to allow the public and the media time to scrutinize the actions of their elected representatives. In an age of behemoth bills and rampant pork-barrel spending, it was a great idea. It was also one that was almost immediately ignored.
The hallmark pieces of legislation in Obama’s first term – the stimulus package and ObamaCare – both passed into law without the promised scrutiny. ObamaCare was especially removed from its namesake’s good government promises. As a candidate, Obama had pledged to hold all negotiations regarding his health care package on C-SPAN. Guess what happened to that guarantee when the Administration started cutting deals with insurance providers?
This trend has continued right up to the present day. Remember how it came to light just days after the bill averting the fiscal cliff was signed into law that the package included giveaways to everyone from Hollywood film producers to algae growers? Does anyone think that would have happened if an army of watchdog bloggers had a week to peruse the text online?
Then there’s the repeated secrecy of the Administration’s top officials.
Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents relating to the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal. It was recently revealed that outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson kept a second e-mail account under a false name in order to skirt transparency requirements.
In addition, there are dozens (it’s telling that no one’s sure about the exact number) of White House policy czars – presidential advisors who don’t face confirmation hearings, are often untouched by Freedom of Information laws, and generally refuse to testify before Congress – shaping policy inside 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
God help you if you want to know how much taxpayer money any of these people are spending. When reporters from Bloomberg News made Freedom of Information Act requests on the travel spending of 57 Obama Administration agency heads – information that must, by federal law, be produced within 20 days of the requests – only eight complied in time. Twenty-seven never even bothered to respond.
The opacity isn’t just limited to internal affairs. Increasingly, the lack of transparency means that policymaking operates almost entirely out of public view. Witness how sweeping laws like ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform law take shape. Congress passes a bill defining only the broad parameters of new public policy.
The real lawmaking actually takes place through the executive branch bureaucracy, where faceless, unaccountable regulators determine what strictures the nation will live under.
And even those rules aren’t reliable. In 2012, the Obama Administration skipped two legally required deadlines to release its plans for new regulations and an estimate of their costs. When the plans were finally released (on the Friday afternoon before Christmas), they bore an estimated cost of $123 billion and 13-million man-hours worth of compliance. Is it any surprise that such daunting numbers managed to stay bottled up during election season?
It’s easy to write off all of these developments by noting that all presidential administrations, particularly in the modern era, find themselves evading transparency when it’s to their political benefit. And there’s certainly some truth to that sentiment. But it must also be noted that the Obama Administration has taken this already noxious trend to new heights.
What’s at issue here isn’t the merits of specific policy arguments. President Obama has won a second term in earnest and is accompanied by a Democratically controlled Senate. It’s inevitable that the resulting product will be something that it’s hard for believers in limited government to swallow. What’s at issue is the trust that a government owes its citizenry within a Republic.
Liberals are free to nurture whatever expansions of government or intrusions upon liberty their little hearts desire. There are plenty of conservatives ready to have that fight. But the left is not free to upend the will of the governed by conducting the business of state in the shadows. They do, after all, ultimately answer to us, their employers.
Mrs. Clinton and her fellow travelers should take notice: That does make a difference.
Troy Senik is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Senik served in the White House as a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and previously wrote for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.