Governing in public is messy business

Published 9:58 am Friday, March 13, 2009

Critics of the new administration have noted that there seems to be an element of disorganization, a lack of clarity in the functioning of the administration.

There was no such lack of clarity in the Bush administration, so why can’t the Obama administration gets its act together?

Obama speaks on education but presents no clear legislative pathway to solution, instead inviting conversation about the topic all over the nation in sponsored group dialogue.

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Obama wanted a stimulus bill but failed to tell Congress what had to comprise the contents of the bill.

Obama speaks out on a complete revision of health care, but what is his program and why doesn’t he make it clear?

None of these things could have happened in the Bush administration, an administration by the first MBA President.

In the Bush administration if they wanted Congress for anything, and they rarely did, they told Congress exactly what Congress was to do.

When the administration wanted cover for their go-to-war claims they simply went to Sen. Pat Roberts in the Senate and told his committee to write a report exonerating the administration on its war claims. Obediently, the Roberts committee created exactly that report.

When the administration wanted an energy policy (that is, an oil policy) it simply brought in all the oil folks and held secret policy setting meetings.

None of this messy open conversation the Obama folks are undertaking. Policy was set, the public be damned, and everything ran smoothly. No dissent was allowed.

Finally, when the Bush administration signed legislation it made it clear that congressional laws had no hold over the administration and its actions.

With signing statements the President made sure and certain claim that it had no intent to follow any law if that law restricted their actions in any way.

Now comes the Obama administration and a different way of governing.

The Obama people seem to think that if they allow democracy to function in the open, if they permit Congress to disagree or the people to shape policy, that this will somehow work to govern the nation.

Just how disorganized is that?

What do they think? That Congress is a separate branch of government, not the rubber stamp the Bush administration made the Republican Congress?

Do they think that Americans really are competent enough to participate in establishing solutions to our problems?

Dick Cheney mocked such public competencies, knowing the people to be too ill-informed to have any contribution to good government.

Already we see signs of the failure of this new approach all around us.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has openly disagreed with the president on the Iraq withdrawal and an administration appointment; Democrats have defied the presidents’ goal of eliminating earmarks. How dare they! And no less authority than George Will has written that the financial markets hate this lack of clarity.

The financial markets do indeed hate the lack of clarity. What they have wanted is for you and me to cover their losses and get out of their way so they can do business as usual.

The Obama folks just can’t seem to accept this Bush-type logic. This is a perfect example of why some many miss the old Bush way of governing.

In the next four years, less 52 days, we can expect more of the same from the Obama administration.

People disagreeing openly in public, policies shaped and re-shaped by participation, Democrats fighting each other; Republicans fighting themselves over whether to just say “no” or to say “no” and demand better alternatives when they say “no.”

This governing business is going to be very messy.

Jim Crawford is a contributing columnist for The Tribune and a former educator at Ohio University Southern.