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July 24th, 2009
12:00 PM ET

Washington's Secret Society

Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Less than a year ago, President Barack Obama (then, a mere candidate) was storming the campaign trail making some of those “Come on kids, let’s change government for the better!” promises that enthralled the fans. And among them was this little gem. He said as he prepared his health care initiative, he would not merely insist on keeping his meetings open, but also “have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies.”

Maybe my cable company has done another of those squirrelly channel realignments, but somehow I’ve missed that reality show. Instead, the Obama Administration, much like the Clinton Administration years ago, has held virtually all of its health care meetings on this signature subject in private, doors closed, with “do not disturb” signs hanging outside.

This White House has prided itself on transparency and President Obama has certainly been much more prone to holding town meetings, press conferences, and public appearances than many (heck, maybe all) of his predecessors. But when it comes to the messy negotiations over health care, a thick privacy curtain has been drawn around the public backroom, and critics from the right, left, and middle are taking notice.

The pit-bull-persistent Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington is howling; suggesting (to the horror of Obamaphiles) that the Obama White House looks an awful lot like the Bush White House on this issue. CREW is demanding much more open dealings, including full details of everyone who has been involved in these closed meetings, whom they represented, what they talked about and for how long. In other words, CREW wants what the President seemed to want back when he was just a citizen, not Citizen-in-Chief.

He’s not the first President to suggest the public ought to have more information and input into such weighty matters – you may recall the phrase, “of the people, by the people,” from somewhere back in American History class – nor is he the first to retreat from that rampart when the shots started flying. Because transparency is hard. It’s not just about doling out more press releases, or spending more time publicly going over your talking points for hand-picked, adoring crowds. It is about letting people, even those who disagree with you, gaze deeply into your sausage grinder to see precisely who is pushing which part of the agenda and what he or she might gain from it.

Official Washington, where the recipes for power are closely guarded, has never been keen on the idea. And this much is clear: That has not changed.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. RLWellman

    Have you guys evered heard of a balanced budget? I don't mean one that you keep spending money and growing in size. One that you cut spending and reduce in size.

    Now, isn't that a novel idea, to cut your size and quit spending money you don't have? I know you have tried to strike while the iron was hot. However, it has cooled down and the people of the United States are starting to wonder where all the money is going to come from.

    If you plan on passing any more bills, please finish writing them first. You need to use this health care first that you are trying to push off onto us. Read your own bills before you sign them! We are not as stupid or puppets like you thought we were.

    July 27, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  2. Tim Gibson

    There never has been, nor will ever be any kind of transparency in Washington. Obama can keep all his secrets and I will keep my change.

    July 24, 2009 at 7:28 pm |
  3. Tim

    Nobody benefits from our current system except for the insurance companies, Major health systems, Lawyers and Pharmaceutical companies. I don't understand why Joe America doesn't get it, that it's time for a change. We are getting fooled by these interests that the government wants health information on us...duh they're in our internet accounts, bank accounts, credit recods...and the list goes on.

    Things on the medical side do not help us at all right now. After going to the hospital after slipping on the ice and landing in a position where my heel almost went up my rear, my $1700 emergency was refused because I didn't break anything, therefore it wasn't an emergency. Now I am stuck with the bill which has gone to collections. Now the major interest groups will tell you that the government is trying to look at your medical records? Donb't be silly....the government, insurance companies, major healthcare providers, and everybody else with money has access to your records already.

    July 24, 2009 at 5:44 pm |
  4. Mari

    @ Michael C. Hugh......... Well said! Agree 100%!

    July 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm |
  5. DoktorThomas

    Here's a no-brainer. Political royalty final realized. Down with the professional politicians!!!

    July 24, 2009 at 3:04 pm |
  6. Joseph Bellanca

    Hi Tom....I am an Obama supporter and find your story revealing of the inner sanctums of reality and defensive feeling they display. Then I read Michael;s response about the C street gang....not so far i would from the historic effect of the Masons on our past and future.

    July 24, 2009 at 1:44 pm |
  7. Michelle Johnson, Lomita, CA

    I expect this comment will not be posted, only deleted, as there is no space for comments on the "black-and-white" letter. If the topic is too hot and controversial for comments, why post the letter on the blog? This is a black and white issue, and President Obama was correct in his statement. In fact, that was an understatement. The professor, who had committed no crime, was arrested in his home. The sergeant refused to apologize. The sergeant should be fired, and the city should pay the professor for the emotional distress involved. The arrest was racially motivated; the facts speak for themselves. It's very clear; there are no gray areas here.

    July 24, 2009 at 1:18 pm |
  8. RLWellman

    The Government wants more control over us and is planning to pass this bill even if most of us don't want it. This is what I call good representation, how about you?

    Nancy Pelosi thinks she doesn't have to follow the laws of the land. But I'm sure you Liberals are fine with this, seeing that it's just another little law that is supposed to be followed.

    Health Care Reform is needed, but not with this bill. We don't need to have the Government tell us who we can see, when we can see them, and if we can see them.

    We also don't need to pay for illegal alien health care. If it is only 8-10 million American citizens that need insurance, let the Government help these people. Stay away from my health care, with the Government's hand in it now, it costs too much, but at least I'm in control of it.

    July 24, 2009 at 1:12 pm |
  9. Fernando

    maybe Obama doesn't want people to see how you bend arms to get things done in Washington...

    July 24, 2009 at 1:03 pm |
  10. Debbie

    Good job. TRUTH.

    July 24, 2009 at 12:53 pm |
  11. dawn

    I am thinking that it is difficult to understand what is going on when I haven't read this reform bill. I doubt I would understand it anyways. but from what I see about President Obama, is that he believes in prevention as well as providing services to the sick. This is very difficult for many people in this country and possibly around the world to accept. The really mentally ill christians that burned people at the stake to see if they are witches, do not believe in prevention with herbs, that only the priest or prayer has power. It is unbelievable that people with this type of delusion actually still exist in this world, but they do.

    From what I understand, Obama believes in people being more healthy, in making gardens, in learning about taking care of oneself at a higher level than what has progressed over time in this country. This progression has come from ignorance and this sickning greed to control people's lives in a way that is hurtful.

    That is part what he may be up against without knowing what is really going on.

    But we are already taxed enough in this world, and the government has destroyed programs time and time again at the fate of their need to use violence and war to solve their problems. Too bad that Bush doesn't see the error of his ways with the Iraq war and volunteer to help people by donating money that he has made from it. It is sad that Bush isn't a better man to actually take accountability for what he did and help his country that he was a President of. If more people like Bush, would see the error of their ways, and make up for their mistakes, people like Obama, wouldn't have such a difficult time trying to help his fellow Americans.

    July 24, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  12. Michael C. McHugh

    The real secret society in Washington is the C Street Boys Club, whose members include Coburn, DeMint, Inhofe, Ensign and the other Republican leaders. Perhaps CNN should do a special report on them, especially their views on their divine right to wealth and power. In any event, some of the C Street Family made a mistake by challenging Obama so personally and directly when it came to his health care legislation. They forgot that he's from Chicago.

    July 24, 2009 at 12:08 pm |