Are public opinion polls the only measure of reality? Citing recent polls that “make clear that there are rising concerns about his policies,” Congressional Quarterly (6/18/09) declares the honeymoon is over and that “It’s on Obama’s watch now.” The concerns seem to center around spending resulting in big deficits, his interventions with car makers, and closing Guantanamo. Even though these are often the favorite Republican talking points, the story said that “voters view the Republican party unfavorably by a 2-t0-1 margin.” The excellent article thoroughly explores the latest polling data from two big recent polls.
It will truly President Obama’s watch only when the key members of his administration have been nominated and confirmed by the Senate. Senators are still holding up several nominations, including that of the very crucial head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Dawn Johnsen.
The Department of Homeland Security is also still without an intelligence chief. Jeff Stein, in his (6/5/09) blog Spy Talk, reported that nominee Phil Mudd’s name is being withdrawn by the White House. Stein concluded, “Mudd was going to be questioned sharply by the Senate Government Affairs and Homeland Security Committee on his relationship to the CIA’s counterterrorism policies and pre-war intelligence on Iraq, committee sources said.” Stein wrote previously that “the writing was on the wall,” before Mudd withdrew his name from consideration. It seems that Mudd is carrying too much baggage from his service in the Bush administration, according to Yahoo! News (6/5/09).
President Obama’s release of the original OLC torture memos is what made all these important Bush administration revelations possible. We all hailed the decision as the correct one. It would seem that the President now, however, is rethinking a number of his commitments to open government and true transparency. Public opinion has not yet been measured on these questions.
Is the Obama administration currently trying to operate in an open and transparent way? There is recent news that the White House is continuing to insist on keeping secret who visits the White House. MSNBC and a nonpartisan watchdog group (CREW) made requests for visitor logs and were denied by the Secret Service, who is subject to the FOIA laws. This is a continuation of the policy of the Bush administration, who claimed in court cases that the records are “presidential,” not Secret Service. Federal judges have ruled several times against the administrations’ OLC filings and each time the OLC appeals. The current administration has said the the policy is currently under review. This was explained in the MSNBC article with a short transcript of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs’ comments when questioned by reporters at a regular briefing.
In a related matter, Steven Aftergood covered President Obama’s executive order to review the national security classification policy in Secrecy News (6/1/09). Over classification of government documents has been a growing problem for decades. But there are certainly very good reasons to classify information that relates to national security sources and methods. It is hard to say whether the CIA photos of detainee abuse fall into that category. I tend to think they do present a potential danger to troop safety, by providing incendiary arguments that terror networks can use for recruitment. But there are also very good arguments on the opposite side.
That same day Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com posted convincingly against “Obama’s support for the new Graham-Lieberman secrecy law,” called “The Detainee Photographic Records Protection Act of 2009.” The law would allow the government to suppress the remaining detainee abuse photos that President Obama originally intended to release. Greenwald asks,
What kind of a country passes a law that has no purpose other than to empower its leader to suppress evidence of the torture it inflicted on people?
. . . Is there really anyone who wants to argue that defiance of a federal court’s order and enacting a new law authorizing suppression of torture evidence — the disclosure of which is compelled both by courts and FOIA — are remotely consistent with anything Obama said he would do, or remotely consistent with what a healthy democratic government would do?”
The mixed bag of approval of, or dissaproval for, President Obama’s policies will inevitable follow these same trends. That is normal and natural as the Bush administration’s influence fades, and as our President governs, rather than campaigns. My list of disappointments grows as the Justice Department appears to take on Bush’s Constitutional assaults as their own in court case after court case. The trend seems to be that of never giving back an ounce of the unitary executive power grabbed by Mr. Bush and his cronies. The same stance is not becoming to AG Holder and to President Obama, fine men who should know better.
[Post date – June 19, 2009]
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