"Executive Order 13233 of November 1, 2001, is revoked."
That simple line that concludes President Barack Obama's "Presidential Records" Executive Order of January 21, 2009 is music to the ears of any historian or journalist who wishes access to presidential records. It's the first blow (and hopefully not the last) against the regimen of secrecy and contempt for the public's right to know that characterized the Bush administration. Researchers will no longer face Bush-era stonewalling and obstacles when seeking public records. It's a long-awaited opening for truth and reconciliation and Obama showed wisdom and good judgment in taking this step on day one of his presidency. I cannot begin to convey my appreciation that we now have a president who clearly recognizes the need for candor and openness to help historians keep the record straight.
Another of President Obama's early executive orders, titled "Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel," sets very clear standards and rules for everyone who works in the departments of the Executive Branch. It bans hiring lobbyists who had plied their trade over the past two years, and no department will hire anyone who lobbied that same department. Once employees leave the Executive Branch they will be barred from lobbying the administration as long as Obama is president. The aim here is clear: President Obama is seeking to break down the old "revolving door" model of business-as-usual in Washington. We all know the modus operandi of the past eight years has been for high-paid lobbyists to be placed in plum positions inside the departments that could do them the most personal good only to return to the private sector after their stints in "public service" to be paid even more lavishly than before.
It would be difficult to construct a more inherently corrupt system of governance.
By breaking the nexus between lobbyists and government departments President Obama is doing something that hasn't been done before. He has raised the ethical bar higher than any previous president. The last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, simply replaced Republican lobbyists with Democratic ones without altering the corrupting influence of K Street. President Obama has slammed shut the revolving the door. It will be a high standard for future presidents to meet. This action will have immediate effects. It will cool the jets of the Rick Davises and Vickie Isemans and Steven Grileses of this world, and might even keep some of those self-centered, greed-driven government job seekers out in the private sector where they belong.
But the Congress is a different story.
I would call upon Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass anti-lobbying legislation similar to the standards that President Obama has set forth for the Executive Branch. The nature of the Legislative Branch, with its collective dependency on big campaign donations to finance frequent elections, makes lobbying reform of any kind an upward battle. But Obama has shown real leadership on this issue and the Congress should do its part to clean up how Washington does business. An opportunity like this might not come along for years and the Democrats in Congress should put their money where their constantly yapping mouths are. Let's see if the Democrats in Congress have the same impulse to clean up Washington as does their standard bearer.
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. President Obama also: Ordered Guantánamo Bay shut down; Banned torture; Ordered a full review of U.S. detention policies and procedures; and Delayed the trial of Ali al-Marri, whose case is at the center of the Supreme Court's review of indefinite detention policies.
We're off to a pretty damn good start.
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