When Senator Obama was running for president, he promised over and over again that he would "change the tone" in Washington. He said he would be a different kind of leader. He said he would work with Republicans in good faith and that his administration would be the most "transparent" in our nations history.
With regard to transparency, candidate Obama promised that the public would have up to five days to review any bill online prior to him taking action on it. This is the promise that appeared on the Obama for President '08 Web site:
"As president, (Obama), will not sign any non-emergency bill without giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House Web site for five days."
President Obama, within nine days of taking office, broke his transparency promise by signing a bill that was not posted on Whitehouse.gov, and within the first four months of taking office the president broke his pledge 10 more times.
Thereafter, the White House had scraped their transparency promise altogether and instead Obama¹s White House has been the most clandestine of any modern day White House.
Most notably we saw secrecy with the stimulus bill and with ObamaCare. With regard to ObamaCare, even the then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had to admit:
"We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it."
Even though the president pledged that he would welcome C-SPAN to cover negotiations on legislation, no meaningful or substantive meetings were ever made public. This is what candidate Obama promised with regard to health care:
"We'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN," he said, "so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who are making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies."
After it was clear that he was not being transparent, a White House reporter confronted the president at a prime time White House Press conference:
Reporter: "You promised that health care negotiations would take place on C-SPAN and that hasn't happened . . .. Are you fulfilling your promise of transparency in the White House?"
The president: "With respect to all the negotiations not being on C-SPAN, you will recall in this very room that our kick-off event was here on C-SPAN. And at a certain point, you know, you start getting into all kinds of different meetings. The Senate Finance Committee is having a meeting. The House is having a meeting. If they want those to be on C-SPAN, then I would welcome it. I don't think there are a lot of secrets going on in there."
With regard to bipartisanship, when President Obama took office he quickly came to the realization that he did not need to be bipartisan. Democrats controlled the House and Senate with high majorities and as such he could get passed anything he wanted without the need for Republican support.
So, for the first two years of his presidency, Republican leadership was shut out and not consulted, courted or respected by the White House. Many Democrats complained of being shut out of the process as well. They could not get copies of bills, nor could they attend meetings or get telephone calls returned by administration officials. This is what the New York Times reported in May of 2009:
Forty-five House Democrats in the party's moderate-to-conservative wing have protested the secretive process by which party leaders in their chamber are developing legislation to remake the health care system. The lawmakers, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, said they were "increasingly troubled" by their exclusion from the bill-writing process.
And, we all remember the famous exchange between Senator Mc Cain and President Obama in February of 2010 where at a health care summit they had the following uncomfortable exchange:
McCain complained to the president that health care negotiations are "being
held behind closed doors."
McCain, goes on to allege that "unsavory" deal making is being made to get health care through the Senate by giving promises to Senators in states like Louisiana, Nebraska and Florida so that they can opt out of certain provisions of health care obligations.
The president tried to cut off McCain thereby forcing McCain to state, "Can I just finish, please?"
"People are angry," McCain said. "We promised them change in Washington, and what we got was a process that you and I both said we would change."
A visibly annoyed Mr. Obama immediately responded, saying "we can spend the remainder of the time with our respective talking points going back and forth. We were supposed to be talking about insurance."
"We're not campaigning anymore," he told McCain. "The election's over." Thereafter McCain turned to the president and said laughingly, "I am reminded of that everyday."
The president who promised to be transparent and bipartisan never practiced it in is first two years in office.
The mark of a true leader is someone who does what he promises. A leader is also someone who will work with the opposition even though he does not have to.
Now, in light of the president's reversal of political fortunes, (brought on by the results of the midterm elections), he is forced into doing that which he promised but never practiced.
In 2009, President Obama did not govern in a transparent manner or a bipartisan spirit. Democrats ruled out of raw power and put ideology above reality.
In 2010, the American people rejected at the polls the manner in which Obama and the Democrats governed since the 2008 elections. In the lame duck session of Congress, Obama and Democrats were forced into working with Blue Dog Democrats and Republican Leadership on extending the Bush Tax Cuts and ratifying the Start Treaty for example. -- How ironic that a Democratically controlled House, Senate and White House passed the very Bush tax cuts they ran so hard against.
How difficult it must be now for the House Majority Leader, Senate Minority Leader and middle of the road Democrats to trust a leader who is forced into a pattern of behavior he is not comfortable with and clearly doesn't respect.
In 2011, President Obama will have no choice but to work with those he totally ignored his first two years in office. His very political survival depends on how he is now able to govern with a divided government that will allow him a record of accomplishment to campaign on in 2012.
The moral of this story is that it is much easier to campaign than to govern and what comes around goes around.
Bradley A. Blakeman served as deputy assistant to President George W. Bush from 2001-04. He is currently a professor of Politics and Public Policy at Georgetown University and a frequent contributor to the Fox Forum.
Former deputy assistant to President George W. Bush