President Obama has not yet been in office for a full week, but already he has signaled, through a series of executive orders and memorandums, that his presidency will completely reverse the course of the previous administration.
From an international standpoint, Obama has done much to improve the image of the United States. The CIA’s secret prisons around the world have been shut down, and torture has been outlawed. Obama has ordered the naval prison at Guantanamo Bay to close within a year, which will bring a responsible end to the U.S. government’s very un-American policy of keeping suspected terrorists in custody indefinitely. After eight years of former President George W. Bush dragging America’s name through the mud, these are welcome changes, if not surprising ones. It was expected from the beginning that Obama would immediately follow through on his promise to conduct the war on terror without using morally questionable means.
Obama also implemented stricter lobbying rules to ensure that government officials have the country’s best interest in mind as opposed to serving a company or special interest group. With every rule, however, there are always exceptions. William Lynn, Obama’s choice for the second highest position in the Department of Defense, is the senior vice president of Raytheon, one of the military’s top defense contractors. This clearly violates Obama’s lobbying rule that administrative officials cannot take jobs in fields in which they have lobbied or participate in decisions related into their former employers. The president has not attempted to hide anything about the selection process from the public, but should elaborate on exactly why Lynn is ‘uniquely qualified’ for this job.
Obama has acted to make the government more transparent by reinforcing the Freedom of Information Act and restricting the right of former presidents to withhold important documents from the public. However, there have been some troubling inconsistencies. When Obama took the oath of office for the second time, the press was almost totally barred from the event. Obama only allowed four print journalists in the room, along with the official White House photographer.
There was probably nothing noteworthy to be discovered by the media during the second swearing-in ceremony. But if reporters are not allowed to witness this benign event, will they also be barred from more consequential moments within the Obama White House? In order to continue upholding transparency, Obama must allow journalists to play their traditional role of keeping the government honest, which they cannot do as effectively if they are denied access on a regular basis. The press may have gone easy on Obama during the campaign, but it has a responsibility to hold him accountable for his actions as president. Only then will the public know for sure if Obama’s actions are fulfilling his noble campaign goals.