Obama's C-Span Problem

At Real Clear Politics, Tom Bevan writes, “Brian Lamb has put President Obama on the spot”:

Lamb is the CEO of C-Span, and today he wrote a letter to the leaders of Congress asking them to allow cameras in the room for the final negotiations on the health care bill. Lamb wrote:

President Obama, Senate and House leaders, many of your rank-and-file members, and the nation’s editorial pages have all talked about the value of transparent discussions on reforming the nation’s health care system. Now that the process moves to the critical stage of reconciliation between Chambers, we respectfully request that you allow the public full access, through television, to legislation that will affect the lives of every single American.

Indeed, this was one of Obama’s signature promises on the campaign trail:


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Words. Just words:

John Steele Gordon asks, “Who is to blame for giving the Republicans such as wonderful cudgel with which to beat President Obama and the congressional Democrats over the head?”

Well, it was that political genius Barack Obama. It was a dumb political move on his part to have ever suggested open negotiations, let alone promising them over and over.

Real negotiations — as opposed to questioning witnesses and debating on the floor — are never held in public. If they were, political opponents and lobbyists would be hanging on every word. The give and take, the thinking out loud, the tentative suggestions, the horse-trading that are so much a part of any negotiation would be impossible when every casual phrase, recorded on C-Span’s camcorders, might be turned into an attack ad for the next election.

When the most momentous negotiations in American history — the Constitutional Convention of 1787 — met for the first time, the members of the convention agreed to strict secrecy. Sentries were posted at all doors. The windows — in a sweltering Philadelphia summer — were kept closed, a discreet member of the convention always attended Benjamin Franklin’s convivial dinner parties to make sure the great man did not talk too much. James Madison’s notes (by far the most important source we have for what went on) were not published until 1840, after all the delegates to the convention were dead.

The Founding Fathers did a pretty good job in those secret meetings 222 years ago. They created what is perhaps the only work of genius ever produced by a committee. The attendees at the secret negotiations over health care will probably not fare as well in the opinion of history. They are not founding a republic, after all; they are trying, with increasing desperation, to get a dirty deal done.


Meanwhile, Jennifer Rubin explores Nancy Pelosi’s own C-Span problem: “Lies, Big Lies and Nancy Pelosi Press Conferences.”

(H/T: Glenn Reynolds, who adds, “They look like promise breakers because they are. They look like they’ve got something to hide . . . because they do.”)

Update: “The Tom DeLay Democrats — So much for the President’s pledge of C-Span transparency.”

Update: “Press corps grills Gibbs: Um, didn’t Obama totally shamelessly lie about C-SPAN?”


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