Posted on Sunday, December 14th, 2008 at 9:42 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Sarah Jaffe
I am aware that at times I sound like the Obama administration’s chief cheerleader, but after eight years of Bush policies that felt like a kick in the guts or a punch in the jaw every couple of months—or sometimes weeks—it’s refreshing to see that the president-elect, while I might not agree with everything he does, does seem like he plans to continue treating Americans like grownups.
One of the chief reasons that Obama came off better than McCain in the debates was that he never condescended to the voters. His promises of increased transparency, coupled with his support for ideas like “Google for Government” and his pushing of ethics bills while in the Senate, sounded just the right notes on the campaign trail.
Still, many government officials have promised transparency and ethics reform—just about every major power shift from party to party has come with calls to clean house and sweep the corrupt out. Corruption certainly knows no party boundaries—I’m talkin’ to you, William Jefferson–but the Obama team’s new open government policies seem less a product of his party and more of his generation.
Change.gov is a fascinating experiment in itself, with a blog outlining the administration-to-be’s plans and projects. It’s an exercise in public relations as much as anything else, clearly designed to present Obama’s plans and appointments in the best possible light, but it clearly was designed by people who know their way around the blogosphere, to appeal to the same. It presents YouTube videos and links to blogs as well as press releases, and of course carries Obama’s weekly addresses.
The “Seat at the Table” policy is so far the most promising step toward the type of open government Obama so cheerily promised. Documents from each meeting held with the transition team are posted on the site in .pdf format, and visitors to the site can not only comment, but upload their own documents for the team to peruse.
I have to feel bad for the hapless intern who gets to read all the emails sent through the site, but even the suggestion of two-way communication with the president’s office is pretty impressive, particularly after the hermetically-sealed Bush administration.
The problem with all of this being on the Internet is, of course, that not everyone has access to the Internet. Which is why along with open government comes expanded broadband access. In Obama’s recent speech on the economy, he promised to “renew our information superhighway,” and pledged to make sure every child had access to the ‘net.
This is easier said than done, especially in a time of recession, when many people are more worried about how they’re going to pay for heat than home computers. Unless Obama’s rolling out a plan to give laptops to every family, there’s still going to be a divide between those who can spend hours a day in front of the computer absorbing information both useful (health care plans!) and useless (Perez Hilton!) and those who get a couple hours a week at a local library or school.
Still, pledges for increased infrastructure spending and an FCC transition team that believes in the possibilities of the Web, this is encouraging.
And government geeks like me can get our kicks off reading mountains of documents on climate change policy and Internet spending, and skimming through the nearly 3000 answers to the question “How is the current economic crisis affecting you?”
Settling into the new Obama administration-elect feels so often like getting comfortable in a new relationship. The flirting is over, the head-over-heels stage is over, and we’re in the part where we’re adjusting to each other, figuring out what we’re going to disagree about. After eight years of an abusive, secretive, one-sided relationship with the Bush team, even the promise of openness from Obama makes me a lot more understanding of the slips (ahem, Larry Summers).
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