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The President’s Second Term and the Accountability Conundrum

Monday, January 21, 2013

 

President Obama is about to get to work on his second term in office, and as we reflect on his first four years as our president, I’m positive that many – sometimes extreme – mixed emotions and sentiments ensue, depending on your perspective and values. One thing that comes to mind when thinking about his 2008 presidential campaign is his call for government transparency, accessibility, and public accountability.

Beyond the vision for hope and change

Beyond the vision for hope and change, “hold me accountable,” became a sort of default motto of his. With 2008 being just my second election as an eligible voter, I was so galvanized by this call, as if he was reaching out to me personally. The idea that anyone could engage her or his government to act on an idea, or whatever makes a heart tick, was so empowering to 20-year-old me. In fact, it’s a still a message I strive to pass along.

Even further, bolstering his theme on accountability, he also pledged an extremely transparent administration by placing key negotiations on C-SPAN, particularly on health care. To the president’s credit, he did allow a “health care summit” on C-SPAN after heavy scrutiny, but what we saw was only a dog and pony show. Of course, elected officials will never have meaningful and honest dialogue on substance of anything if the American people are watching.

However, call me naïve, but I expected more out of President Obama’s administration on the open government front. He does claim to have the most transparent administration ever (A quick Google search of, “Obama most transparent administration,” will deliver plenty of fodder). But what does that mean?

Many in the media continue to complain about the administration’s performance on Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Some say that it’s the worst administration they’ve experienced on FOIA issues. On the other hand, the White House provides access to records and data that it deems permissible via Ethics.gov and Data.gov (place emphasis on the phrase, “that it deems permissible”). If you’re savvy enough, you can solicit a White House response to your issue by filing a petition on the website, petitions.whitehouse.gov. At one time, they obligated themselves to respond to your petition if you had 30,000 signatures but, as of this week, they have upped the ante to 100,000. Online petitions via their website could rightfully be perceived as frivolous, but I always considered it as a cool opportunity to demand a response to important issues. To their credit though, the White House continues to reflect on its own open government commitments and has laid out a progress report, which can be accessed here.

As President Obama moves forward to his second term, he continues his message of encouragement to get more US citizens engaged with their government. Since his reelection, I’ve heard him, more than once, talk about citizen collaboration, and the need to hold him and Congress accountable. Naturally, he’d prefer that the attention be focused on Congress. In times that others have held him to his word and a challenge has been posed to him, we’ve seen him slip over his smoothness.

Accountability

So what can we do to hold our government accountable? There are a myriad of challenges to keeping government accountable to the people. And because transparency is the lynchpin to accountability, we could begin by demanding an open political and government process. We can’t hold people accountable for their actions, if we don’t know what they did. If you had grievances of your own, some would tell you to run for office, which does put elected officials’ feet to the fire. I personally would probably tell you to call or write your officials, or better yet, organize your friends, neighbors, and colleagues to do the same. I’m a grassroots organizer by trade (many of you will laugh all you want; go for it; organizing is a good thing), and a popular phrase we use is, “Don’t mourn, organize.” However, none of these solutions takes into account those who simply don’t have much time to stay on top of fast-moving issues, and keep government open – those who work long hours in the day, have families, are buried in personal and family obligations, and are trying to make ends meet.

I remember the night President Obama won reelection, and I posted a Facebook status encouraging everyone to keep the administration accountable for its actions on our issues. And a friend reminded me that it’s a hard thing to do when feeding a family and sorting through many priorities. That’s a moment that struck me as a challenge.

So I’d like to pose this challenge to all of you reading. Take a short moment to think about whether or not you feel as though you have ample opportunity to access government. Are you able to stay on top of the issues? Are you accessing the right sources for information? Are you willing and able? Do you engage the government with your issues, and how are they received? And most importantly, what are some solutions to engaging anyone in the political process?

As we look on to his second term, it’s going to be critical to hold the president accountable on his commitment to accountability. And that will fall on all of us. There will be strong and bitter disagreements among us, for sure. But Mr. President, will you keep your end of the bargain.

Mike Roles, Guest MINDSETTER

Michael Roles engages communities through various environmental, green economy, and social equity initiatives as an organizer and trainer. He tracks policy for the Environment Council of Rhode Island (ECRI), and serves as Vice President for Issues for the ECRI Education Fund.

 


 

 

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Comments:

jon paycheck

it staretd with clinton and was galvanized in the bush administration..and now obama

whats that? - the left wing domination of the media..

i am absolutely amazed at the free ride that the media has given obama... they just wont touch him. he cant do anything wrong. and neither can harry reeid.

you just cant deny it anymore---

jon paycheck

if you want to know how disfunctional government is, try logging onto the website www.inaugural.senate.gov

cant even log on..........

they cant weven get the website functional

Art West

Despite the promise of transparency, the Obama administration has been one of the least transparent, secretive and obstructionist administrations.

Examples abound where executive orders, refusal to honor the Freedom of Information Act, insider deals and outright lies have denied the public knowledge of what its elected officials have been doing:

o Fast and Furious
o Benghazi
o Solyndra
o Obamacare (ultimately you had to read the bill to find out what
was in the bill)
o Agency heads using unofficial alternate emails to avoid public
scrutiny (EPA prime example)
o Etc., etc.

This is a president who wants to transform the country, and he's doing all he can to keep the public from realizing his endgame (hint, it involves lots of taxes and lots of regulations and less freedom).

Michael Roles

Thank you all, for sharing your grievances. But what are you going to do about it?

For those who support the president on particular issues, how are you going to help him translate his words to action? For those who oppose him on particular issues, how are you going to demonstrate that what he supports is not good for the country, or is not what the people want? How are you going to hold him more accountable?

When the president closed his inaugural address today, he said: "You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals." It's critical that we stay engaged and live out those words. And further, we need to make sure he lives by his.

How do you plan to do it? Where can you fit in? What is possible?

By the way, the White House's own evaluation of its Open Government Initiative can be found here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/opengov_report.pdf

Art West

Michael,

I see a president who, in actions, does the opposite of defending "ancient values and enduring ideals."

I'll raise my voice by contacting my representatives, encourage the House leadership to stand firm against presidential abuse of power, financially support fiscally responsible federal candidates, and join grassroots organizations that value freedom and opportunity.

In one small way, I held the president accountable with the post above.

And I'll advise you to keep your eyes and ears open. Pay attention to actions, not words.

Michael Trenn

Mr. Roles: I do not need you to criticize people like me, who disagree with this President's agenda, actions, and philosophical orientation. I voted against him. Twice. I joined an organization that massed people against the liberal takeover of my country's values, as I understood them. Liberals like yourself first demonize us, and then blame us for the toxic climate of poltical discourse. It does look like you are waking up to some unpleasant realities that should give you pause. This President is so secretive that he is actually more like Richard Nixon than FDR. The thought that sustains me is this: We now have one day leass of this President to go than we have already endured. To all you liberals: Tick tock, tick tock.

Michael Trenn

Less, sorry.

Michael Roles

Art, thanks for sharing your thoughts and for noting some of the questionable conduct. And with respect to the idea of paying attention to actions, I completely agree with you, but I believe words need to be included as well. While we may not agree with everything, these are the kinds of conversations I like to provoke and enjoy having, in the spirit of public debate and civic discourse.

Mr. Trenn: I did not intend to critique or criticize anyone in particular. I'm sorry for making you feel that way. The intention was to provoke a productive conversation on how we can obtain a more accountable government and include more in the process, no matter where one stands in the political spectrum -- Democrats, Republicans, left-wing, right-wing, liberal, conservative, etc. I intentionally left my own politics out of this, because these are issues that we could all agree on. Therefore I'm not quite sure why you decided to pinpoint me as a liberal. Frankly, I am more liberal than many, but I'm never in the business of demonizing anybody. I see us all as humans; we all put our pants on the same. We probably disagree on many issues and they're probably issues about which I'd be happy to have a conversation. Just as I'm sure you'd like to challenge me, I'd be happy to challenge you. But only on the issues for the sake of productivity. I respect you for getting involved in the causes you care about, and hope it led to your causes being better understood. I also think demanding a more accountable government is a cause we can all unify under, and better understand each other.

michael riley

i would add the process producing the affordable care act to a long list of obfuscation and secretive behavior.....hes broken many promises since 2008

Charles Marsh

When we are continually distracted by our national (pro-wrestling) politics, the less time we spend holding our local town politicians accountable. If you want accountability, push your local leaders, they are the ones we can really affect. If you want to change the world, start a home.




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