Good Stuff From Obama

Well, I was cynical about Obama giving up executive power, as politicians generally have a different view of runaway government power once that power is in their hands.  But some good stuff has come out already:

  • Obama rescinded Bush's 2001 executive order allowing former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs to claim executive privilege in determining which of their records get released to the public. Even better, he's requiring the signature of both his White House counsel and the attorney general before he can classify a document under executive privilege.
  • Issued a memorandum to all executive agencies asking them to come up with a new plan for open government and complying with FOIA requests. He is also instructing three top officials, including the U.S. attorney general, to come up with a new policy on open government. The new policy would replace the existing policy, infamously set by a 2001 memo from John Ashcroft that instructed federal agencies to essentially to take every measure they can to refuse FOIA requests.
  • Put a freeze on the salaries of top White House aides.
  • Suspended the military trials at Gitmo, and is expected to issue an order closing Gitmo as soon as today.

That's a really good start.  I am now more optimistic that we might actually get some rollbacks of government power vis a vis FISA and the Patriot Act.  The Fourth Amendment took a serious beating since 9/11, and hopefully it is not too late to roll back the precedents set over the last 7 years.

Of course, all of these activities are reductions of executive power in areas in policy areas Obama wants to undo actions by GWB.  The real test will be to see his approach to executive power in areas where he wants to go past GWB.  A good example is carbon dioxide regulation, where it has been suggested Obama should take the issue out of Congress's hands and establish a regulatory regime by executive fiat.

While we are on wish lists, I have often told my Republican friends that a fault of Bush's that did not get enough press was his apparent lack of willingness to provide adult supervision to Congress.  Congress needs to be shamed occasionally to stay on task and not drift off into feeding fests at the trough, and only the President can really do this.  Bush did not have the desire to face down a Republican Congress, and probably had lost all his credibility by the time he faced a Democratic Congress.  Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi will take a lot of baby-sitting to avoid veering off into their worst behaviors, and it will be interesting to see if Obama will do so.  I think it is in his interest to do so.  Already, the ridiculous stimulus bill Pelosi has crafted threatens to embarrass him.  If I were Obama, I would be furious.  He expends his early political capital for a stimulus bill, and gets a total porked-up lobbyist's-fantasy from the House.


  1. Georg Thomas:

    I am always astounded at the schizophrenic division between "civil liberties" and other liberties so liberally used in American political discussions.

    Of course, every liberty restored is a gain, any option for the abuse of power eliminated is a gain.

    However, the nature of Obama's political agenda is fundamentally anti-constitutional, anti-liberty collectivist, economically interventionist and totalitarian (as is the notion of democracy that his party derives its name from).

    Are we too blind to see what his regime is about to achieve in the next 4 years, just because of the distraction of this or that red herring.

    Patience. No need to applaud the man on the second day of his rule. We have months in which we could witness his inacceptable political stance, we will have years to see it unfold.

  2. Dr. T:

    Obama rescinded Bush’s 2001 executive order allowing former presidents, vice presidents, and their heirs to claim executive privilege in determining which of their records get released to the public. Even better, he’s requiring the signature of both his White House counsel and the attorney general before he can classify a document under executive privilege.

    How does this restrict Obama as executive? The first statement can be negated and evaded by classifying documents as they are created, instead of waiting until the President leaves office. The second statement is no hindrance at all: would Obama's counsel and the Attorney General he appointed oppose any of his requests for secrecy?

    The Gitmo ruling is out now. It can be boiled down to: do something, anything, with the prisoners within a year. The something can be as simple as transferring them to another military prison. Yeah, that solved the problem.

    Asking government agencies to submit ideas on how they can better comply with requests for information will generate hundreds of justifications on why information release is difficult.

    I don't see anything here but window dressing.

  3. John Moore:

    In the EO, there is an explicit exception for the current executive. Obama's papers are still under executive privilege.

    I am afraid he is doing this so the Bush Haters can get their hands on documents to be used for political kangaroo court trials of Bush Administration figures.

    Ultimately, though, it weakens the executive. I think it is a terrible idea.

    Likewise, suspending the trials at Gitmo strikes me as a poor idea. On trial are the masterminds of 9-11, and it is about time the faced punishment. On the other hand, by suspending the trials, Obama keeps them in prison even longer (for those that might have been found innocent).

    In other words, this makes no sense no matter whether you think the prisoners are being held unjustly or should be tried and punished.

    This looks like an Obama waffle - he is simply pushing it down the road in time.

  4. Mesa Econoguy:

    Dr. T nailed it. Wait until this crew gets hit with their first sensitive issue/doc release, and I guarantee you they’ll find a way to get around this faster than you can call Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly.

    Also, presidential heirs may (will) have a far different idea of what constitutes private, releasable material. Obama may have just triggered a slew of lawsuits.

  5. Will H:

    How is closing Gitmo a good thing? What do you do with the prisoners? Let them go? Give them back to their home country?

    From the NY Times

    "The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen."

    Build another prison for them on another US Base? How's that different the Gitmo? Put them in our Federal or Military prisons? They won't last long there unless you give them solitary confinement which is worse then Gitmo.

    It easy to criticize and provide no viable alternative solutions.

  6. Dave J.:

    Why no mention of limiting Lobbyists roles in his admin. and nominating two former lobbyists?

  7. Scott Wiggins:

    Closing Gitmo detention center is a bone tossed to the far left, the New York Times and John McCain. It is meaningless otherwise, as the Supreme Court has already thrown out the constitutionality of Military Tribunals. This will merely cost a lot of money to close one prison and open up a new one at a costs of tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. If you think a Congressmen is going to miss an opportunity for an earmark to build a new High Security Terrorists Detention Center in his district you are wrong. This is merely political window-dressing. Nothing more...