EDITORIAL: Obama secrecy

You can’t have a closed-door meeting about the need for fewer closed-door meetings and expect anyone to take you seriously. That’s like writing a memo to order fewer memos. Such folly is business as usual in the Obama White House.

President Obama promised a historic level of transparency from his administration but hasn’t delivered. On Dec. 7, the president had a “workshop” on government openness that was closed to the public.

Perhaps Mr. Obama didn’t want the public to hear about some of his less-than-glamorous transparency report cards. This comes on the heels of a purported transparency Web site - recovery.gov - delivering fake information to the public about fantasy jobs in imaginary congressional districts.

The political landscape is littered with broken promises for ever-greater transparency. Mr. Obama promised that all health care negotiations would be open to the public. Yet the day before the secret meeting to condemn secrecy, the president held a Democrats-only closed-door strategy meeting to push a new version of his partisan health care plan.

The president’s purple prose continues nonetheless. “The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure,” he said. Talk is cheap.

The administration has sometimes released information only after weeks or months of pressing from watchdogs and reporters. There has been foot-dragging about what cars people bought through the “cash for clunkers” program, rules about the interrogation of terror suspects and White House visitor logs, for starters.

We have some sympathy for Chicago’s favorite son. After all, it has to be embarrassing for him to have to reaffirm the George W. Bush administration’s decision to keep national security information secret, but that’s what he’s doing. The Obama administration is using the state-secrets privilege just as President Bush did to keep eavesdropping programs in the shade. Mr. Obama also didn’t allow the planned release of hundreds of photos by the Pentagon that show the purported mistreatment of prisoners by U.S. personnel.

A Nov. 18 Zogby poll shows that just 38 percent of likely voters think the Obama administration is more transparent than the Bush administration, with the same number viewing the Democratic team to be less transparent. That’s not a great showing for a would-be reformer who made openness one of the hallmarks of his campaign for the highest office in the land.

Mr. Obama has the lowest-ever recorded approval rating for a president at this point in his term. Perhaps he might win broader public support if he didn’t promiscuously abandon his campaign promises.

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