Opinion | The Obama Administration’s Myth of Transparency

| November 26, 2014

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Nick Rudnik, Valdosta Today Opinion Contributor:

Obama calls for most transparent and accountable administration in history—results prove otherwise

In 2007, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama released a now-ubiquitous press release entitled, “Obama Pledges Most Transparent and Accountable Administration in History.” Oh, how ironic that sounds, doesn’t it? Fast-forward to 2013, and the watchdog group, the Committee to Project Journalists, released a scathing report noting that the Obama administration was “the most closed-off” to journalists in recent memory.

The American press corps has long derided the incumbent Obama administration of being “secretive,” “shady,” “uncooperative,” and the like. And wasn’t it this administration that long-scorned the previous Bush administration for being non compliant and obstinate towards the American press and, by extension, the people?

On Monday, the Obama administration hammered another nail on the coffin of openness and good governance. Former Republican Nebraska senator and current secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, announced, in the East Room of the White House, his intention to resign as secretary upon the Senate’s confirmation of a successor.

The irony is replete. An administration so ready to point to the likes of Hagel, a Republican in a top cabinet post, as a shining example of bipartisanship and now leaving amid allegations of tension between the Pentagon and the administration. Further, reports note Hagel became increasingly upset with the administration’s micromanagement of his agency. But, would we come to expect anything less from the Obama administration—now in the waning months of its sixth year in office?

Certainly, in representative democracy: we elect representatives to make decisions on our behalf. Some of these decisions are far too sensitive to release to the American public—and, inevitably, the entire globe. Most Americans understand the need for secrecy of certain (usually, national security) issues. But still, as David Sanger, a New York Times Washington bureau correspondent reminds us, “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.” Indeed, this is not what we should come to expect from the “most transparent and accountable administration in American history.”

This is a much deeper issue than the sordid history of the Obama administration’s relationship with the press. When the press is stymied in actively and earnestly covering the public affairs of our government, we are worse off for it. Consider that it is a rarity to learn of the happenings throughout the world devoid the information being first distilled through the prism of the media—whether in print, on television or radio, or online. In modern society, the role of a free and open press is tantamount to indispensable.

In political science, we say the media has an “agenda setting role.” They don’t tell us what to think, but they do inform us on what to think about. They “set the agenda,” and thus prime the public on what certain issues are more salient at any given time than others.

When crucial information is withheld by policymakers, it impugns our ability to have an honest debate on current issues of public import. For this, the lack of transparency in government should never be taken lightly. And remember, these issues are not solely found in the halls of government in Washington, but also in Atlanta. According to a recent Center for Public Integrity report, state government in Atlanta ranks fiftieth in the nation on a variety of indicators, including: openness and transparency, corruption, campaign financing, and ethics enforcement. That’s right, the governor and legislators in Atlanta rank dead last in the nation for integrity in civic office.

The woes of both the Obama administration and functionaries in Atlanta deeply concern me. And, I think they concern most Americans and Georgians. Moreover, I think they troubled Secretary Hagel.

Whether it’s at a national, state, or municipal level, Americans wants an honest conversation. We want transparency and accountability. But, I fear with federal reelection rates hovering, typically, around the 90 percent threshold (and, that’s not even delving into state-level reelection rates), there is a lack of an impetus to modify the status quo.

The crux of all this is that transparency and accountability are two things we should consider the next time we go to the ballot box. We wonder why Americans don’t trust government, and haven’t for quite some time. If we have a government that is not only doing what’s best for the people, but also is responsive to the concerns of the electorate: that is how we renew trust in our nation’s political institutions. The Obama administration’s myth of accountability and transparency is the way things are in Washington today. But, what we should remember is that they don’t have to be. They should never be.

Though, the only way to prevent this kind of bad behavior in Washington and Atlanta is in the sanctity of the ballot box. Now, remember this next time you go and vote.


rudnik-thumbnailNicholas A. Rudnik is currently pursuing a degree in political science with a concentration in American politics at Valdosta State University. Previously, he’s served as a congressional page in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 111th Congress and in the Office of U.S. Congressman Sanford Bishop. Further, Nick has served on staff at an institutional interest group, the Association of American Law Schools, in Washington and has worked in the private sector. He has presented his research, focused primarily on congressional parties and elections, at regional academic conferences and hopes to pursue a graduate degree in political science. Nick is currently completing two manuscripts relating to southern congressional elections and judicial decision-making in the area of campaign finance; he can be contacted via e-mail at narudnik@valdosta.edu. Follow Nick on Twitter: @NickRudnik.

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3 Comments on "Opinion | The Obama Administration’s Myth of Transparency"

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  1. Ed Tyner says:

    Right on again!! This Administration has a long record of hypocrisy. So did the Bush Administration but they’re gone and not coming back. You know what they say, full me once… I’m ready for January of 2017. Maybe then we’ll have somebody in the White House who’ll be honest, fair and willing to work for the American Public. We can only hope.

  2. Al says:

    The media also has to take some of the blame. They have largely given this president a pass for the majority of his tenure. An open government with Press freedom ensures accountability to the people and helps keep those in power honest. Sadly we are lacking in both. Most major news outlets have agendas and “real journalism” is on life support if not dead already.

  3. Tito says:

    The Liberal Media hoodwinked by a Liberal President?? I LOVE the irony.