Barack Obama promised to clean up government and restore Americans' trust in their leaders. He broke this promise, and instead gave us four years of cronyism, secrecy and deception.Thus writes Tim Carney.
Obama's campaign rhetoric about honest government, his vow in 2008 to level the playing field and his pledge to right a rigged game lay at the heart of his appeal to the center. This talk of responsible government has continued throughout his tenure.
"We have to recognize that we face more than a deficit of dollars right now," Obama told Congress in his first State of the Union address. "We face a deficit of trust -- deep and corrosive doubts about how Washington works that have been growing for years."
A few seconds later, speaking on this very theme, the president blatantly lied to Congress and the country.
"We've excluded lobbyists from policymaking jobs," he said.
But sitting in the front row of the House chamber were four former lobbyists whom Obama had appointed as Cabinet secretaries. His Internal Revenue Service general counsel had lobbied for the Swiss Bankers Association. His Treasury Department chief of staff was fresh off a gig as a Goldman Sachs lobbyist.
As Obama spoke those words, more than 40 ex-lobbyists held policymaking jobs in his administration.
The moment embodied Obama's greatest failures: his failure to play it straight with the American people, his failure to wrestle power from the lobbyists and his apparent failure to even try.
Obama -- through his special-interest dealings, his corporate welfare and crony capitalism, his deceptions, his lawbreaking expansion of executive power, his disregard for transparency and his broken promises -- has increased the deficit of trust that he inherited.
Obamacare, his signature initiative, was spawned in backroom deals with the very lobbyists he attacked on the campaign trail. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the largest single-industry lobby in the country, wrote large portions of the bill. The law is loaded with special favors and subsidies that benefit drugmakers at the expense of taxpayers and patients.
Obama's lawyers tried to keep this fling secret, stonewalling congressional investigators who wanted to see the White House's emails with the drug lobby.
Obama's stimulus was a pork-laden lobbyist feeding frenzy, and cronyism pervaded his green energy subsidies. A recently revealed email shows a top Energy Department political appointee warning, "Reid may be desperate. WH may want to help," referring to vulnerable Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who was seeking a subsidy for his home state. "Short term considerations may be more important than longer term considerations and what's a billion anyhow?"
Obama, newly public emails show, personally oversaw this politically motivated fast-track process that led to such failed investments as Solyndra. This was not good government. This was abuse of the public trust for political gain. And it is the norm under Obama.
Obama launched the United States into war in Libya with no legal authority to do so, and he tried to dodge the issue by calling it a "kinetic action."
His administration has clamped down on transparency, creating new justifications for rejecting Freedom of Information Act requests. Obama scrapped his "transparency czar" position in 2010, giving those duties to partisan lawyer Bob Bauer, who was openly hostile to transparency -- "disclosure is a mostly unquestioned virtue deserving to be questioned," Bauer once wrote.
Obama has led by misleading, and he is campaigning the same way. His economic attack on Mitt Romney centers on a flagrant misrepresentation of his own auto bailout and Romney's position. "We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt," Obama said in a radio address this year. But both GM and Chrysler went bankrupt. "You did not say that you would provide government help," Obama said to Romney in a debate, but Romney had called explicitly for federal loan guarantees.
Obama's culture war campaign consists mostly of claiming Romney would take away birth control -- because Romney opposes Obama's law outlawing co-pays on birth control and forcing employers to cover every penny of it.
On honesty, transparency and fairness, you can object that Bush was as bad. But that misses the point. Obama appealed to swing voters -- who don't share his extreme views on abortion or his expansive vision of the government's role -- by promising a new, fairer way of doing business.
He didn't deliver this. He lost our trust. He doesn't deserve it back.