Embarrassing transparency

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“For a long time now, there’s been too much secrecy in this city,” President Obama said at the beginning of his administration. And much rhetoric followed about transparency and open government. It didn’t happen.

Now you’d think I would proceed to decry the failures of transparency. I would, another day, but I’m much more concerned today about sanctimonious transparency splurges.

  • Item 1: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi contemplates the “Slaughter Rule” for ObamaCare, which would allow House members to “deem” the Senate health care bill passed in a “2-for-1” procedure that didn’t actually involve voting on the Senate bill. Pelosi candidly explains, “I like it, because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.”
  • Item 2: Obama administration officials explain the rupture in relations with Israel as an attempt to shift Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition leftward (and note in passing that there is no chemistry between Obama and Netanyahu and that they don’t think Netanyahu is very bright).

This is transparency that people outside the Beltway learn in kindergarten to avoid. You don’t tell the world they’re too stupid to realize what you’re doing as a justification for doing it. And you don’t tell the world that your stupid best friend whom you don’t like needs a dramatic change.

You do these things, however misdirected and if at all, in private, if you’re human. This is condescension that only a teenager could conceive—and by “teenager,” I mean the brain-drained stage of human development that is chemically deficient in capacity to reason but hormonally awash in self-aggrandizement.

Ezra Klein, with whom I respectfully disagree on most things, says accurately of the “Slaughter Rule” approach to ObamaCare, “this is all about plausible deniability for House members who don’t want to vote for the Senate bill, although I doubt many voters will find the denials plausible.”

ObamaCare threatens one-sixth of the United States economy. Why would anyone casually announce that they seek to achieve this federal government juggernaut by hoodwinking the electorate? Democrats are in dangerous denial if they believe Americans are that obtuse.

But at least the “Slaughter Rule” hasn’t cost lives. The Obama administration’s aren’t-we-clever-and-let’s-talk-about-it approach to Middle Eastern politics may indeed cost lives. Announcements of building in East Jerusalem in Jewish neighborhoods have been routine for years and never stirred protest. But this time, spurred by the deliberately high-profile Biden-Clinton scolding of an ally, Palestinians have taken to the streets. As Yossi Klein Halevi notes in the New Republic, “what is clear today in Jerusalem is that Obama’s recklessness is endangering Israeli—and Palestinian—lives. As I listen to police sirens outside my window, Obama’s political intifada against Netanyahu seems to be turning into a third intifada over Jerusalem.”

“But how charming we remain, notwithstanding.” —Saul Bellow, Herzog.

This is an administration, and a political party, that needs a little less transparency, because it’s embarrassing and condescending.

Kendrick Macdowell is a lawyer and writer in Washington, D.C. He was Vice President and General Counsel at the National Association of Theatre Owners.  Prior to joining NATO, he served as General Counsel to Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and specialized in judiciary and financial market issues. Prior to the Senate, he was a partner at the law firm of Patton Boggs LLP.