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Enron answer: The Openness in Government Act

By Bruce Walker
web posted January 21, 2002

Liberal Democrats, salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs at the prospect of turning prejudiced innuendo into Chinese water torture, will not be dissuaded from constant drumbeat of "Enron! Enron! Enron!" - unless President Bush goes directly on the attack.

We all know the flawed illogic. Money must be taken out of politics, and so - they say - smashing the First Amendment under the storm trooper's jackboot is the "Final Solution to the Business Question." Republicans are guilty of favoring those who produce wealth and not poverty, which makes them prima facie guilty of any accusation regarding commerce and problems. The Bush family is a dynasty (so unlike the Roosevelts, Kennedys, Rockefellers, or the Gores) and so all Bush friends and family inherently suspect.

The real problem is that government regulates and taxes and dictates so much that political contributions are simply a cost of doing business. During the age of wealth builders (aka "Robber Barons") serious men who were improving the lives of every American did not bother much with political contributions. It was - and their assessment was right on target - beneath them.

Now the shakedown affects not only business but also anyone who tries to do much of anything in America. Pay the feudal overlords or expect medieval punishments. What can be done? Well, reflect for a moment on the actual facts of the Enron case. What was the tiny thread with which these reborn "good-government" Democrats seek to strangle an American president who is currently pre-occupied with the minor matter of defending freedom in a global war? Apparently Enron officials "talked" to Bush Administration officials!

Yes, the awful truth be known, a major public corporation actually talked with government officials whose duty is to communicate with major public corporations. The whole farce is not just Catch 22, but very likely Catch 23 and Catch 24 as well. As Marxists used to say: "The more innocent the victim, the more guilty." Indeed.

The dim bulbs of the leftist disintelligentsia, however, can only play slow pitch girl's softball. The President can, and should, attack this "problem" with a reform that will leave the last Democrat standing in Death Valley and wondering who sold him his travel guide.

The connection that Democrats fantasize of using is "talking" with government officials. The vast vulnerability, however, is that the content of communication between government officials and those under the thumb of these officials shows no inkling of any wrongdoing by Republicans. Democrats, by contrast, have huge problems with these "communications." Recall how easily e-mails were lost in the Clinton White House? Phone message logs were unclear: was Vice President Gore calling helpless corporate executives as the Vice President or was Democrat Nominee calling? Hard to always tell. When Democrats met with AFL-CIO leaders, were these government policy issues or political discussions? What was said when indicted labor leaders spoke with convicted Congressmen like Dan Rostenkowski? Hard to know...memories are sketchy...not everything was always clear. Sure. Right. We "get it."

But what was said and how it was said is the very essence of everything that matters. In a free society, everyone ought to be able to talk with everyone else. That is sort of what the First Amendment is intended to protect.

The people, however, do have a right to know what was said to a government official by a union boss, corporate executive, non-profit agitator, or Hollywood mogul. Why not require that all communication, including the content of the communication, by any public official - including staffers and government lawyers and all the other tax paid conduits to deals - with any private individual be a public record in its entirety? Given technology today, it would not be very difficult to require that any such communication actually be videotaped and archived.

Conservatives during the Clinton years had little problem showing that the myriad highly placed shakedown artists of the Clinton Administration were visiting with donors and allies - but what exactly was said? Make the failure to record that record and to make that record available a crime, and there we have a reform that will make Democrats run like scalded cats.

There are a few tricky bits. The law should provide that if Executive Privilege is claimed for reasons of national security that the United States Supreme Court shall have original jurisdiction and exclusive over those claims. Frivolous claims would risk horrible publicity ( e.g. if the "national security" issue involved a Chinese Communist contribution to the Democratic National Committee).

This reform would also have the priceless value of placing high level bureaucrats and congressional "investigators" on the same vulnerable status as Republican presidents. Most importantly, it would make it very hard for people like Jesse Jackson or George Clooney or Marc Rich to easily abuse government power and largess. The mere proof that they spoke and did not record that conversation would make the official (and the private party, if there was a conspiracy) guilty. Moreover, the right of each private citizen to seek information under this act would create a million watchdogs.

Today - or at least until very recently - all the insider information on the doings in Washington were the private preserve of politically reliable "journalists." Why them? Why not the whole of the American people? Is not the "people's right to know" superior to "CNN's right to selectively reveal"?

In our age of secrecy, we forget that openness in public affairs was always considered a pre-requisite to good government. The Roman Republic had "candidates" whose very name implied complete openness. Voting was public, so that stealing votes was impossible and everyone knew where the other stood.

President Bush should raise the issue somewhat like this:

"The men and women of my Administration are honest citizens. They came to Washington already wealthy. Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and Colin Powell do not need any favors from corporations. These people, however, must communicate with corporate executives, labor leaders, heads of non-profit organizations, and many other people in order to do their jobs well.

"You have a right to know what is said between your servants - in the White House and in Congress - and those with whom they talk. Therefore I propose that Congress enact a law - and this law should exempt no one, including members of Congress, including their spouses, including their staff, including their committee and subcommittees - requiring that all communications between them and any member of the public be made available to everyone in America.

"We are not afraid - or those of us with nothing to hide should not be afraid - of letting America know what is said to us and by us. You have the right to know that what I say to you is what I say to corporate and labor leaders, and that this is what I say to anyone who writes or speaks to me. My values and my answers do not change.

"Americans have begun to trust their government again. That has been a priority of my Administration. Let those who wish this trust to grow and blossom stand up and pass the 'Openness in Government Act.' It will exempt no one, except in true cases of national security when the United States Supreme Court makes that determination."

Liberals live in the shadows. Democrats dwell in "Deal"land. These people have long since believing in anything but power and secret influence. Conservatives and Republicans, by contrast, see the frustrated Americans trying to live good lives as their natural allies. Were a poll possible, 90 per cent of all contributions to Democrats would be to buy power and 90 per cent of all contributions to Republicans would be to restore our Republic.

Conservatives and Republicans are already expressed to microscopic scrutiny by the bloodhounds of political correctness and partisan interest. When Larry Flynt is promising millions to anyone who can embarrass Republican politicians, any Republican who feels "safe" should talk to Bob Packwood (a "moderate" Republican). Private citizens who simply wish to ask for good policies and honest government will not fear this sort of reform either: if we wish to be exempt from this law, then loudly proclaim precisely what we believe.

Only liberals and Democrats will fear the "Openness in Government Act." The very salvo will have their talking heads stammering with even more exquisite incoherence than usual. And they will learn that children like them should not play with fire.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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