Two news/story items came across my desk in the last couple of days that share something vital in common even though they look on the surface like opposites. The first concerns a Washington Pos t Op-Ed by Matt Miller, Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and ex-Clinton OMB official. The second is news about universities like Penn State and Temple that are encouraging students to lodge complaints against their professors for being “one-sided” or bringing up material not “germane” to the course.
In the Post Op-Ed, Miller calls for the Obama administration to ban any “kiss and tell” books from White House insiders, making serving in the administration the equivalent of omertà, the mafia’s code of silence, for five years after leaving the administration.
The universities in question are inviting, indeed, proudly institutionalizing, student complaints against the universities’ principal employees and the lifeblood of the university, the faculty.
So on the one side we have an attempt to silence and on the other an attempt to get people to speak up.
These two items imperil what still remains of openness in American society. First, some details.
Writes Miller in his Post piece entitled “A Prenup for the West Wing:”
“Barack Obama should simply require key advisers and officials to sign a binding contract of confidentiality as a condition of employment. Aides should pledge not to disclose anything they see until, say, five years after their boss leaves office.”
He goes on to state:
“[T]his [is not] the same as post-White House advocacy urging an administration to change policy direction -- something that I and other White House alums have done, and which has in some cases made sitting officials unhappy. In addition, there are rare but legitimate acts of conscience by officials that led them to resign and speak out (something that did not occur in McLellan's [sic] case, which rendered his appeals to duty unpersuasive).
“No, when top presidential aides [he names George Stephanopoulos or Scott McClellan specifically] kiss and tell, it's uniquely troubling.”
I can appreciate Miller’s disdain for those who have cashed in and his sentiment that the high officials should have resigned and spoken out instead of waiting, for if they had spoken out at the time it much more likely would have made a difference. Scott McClellan’s revelations of the Bush White House manipulating intelligence to justify the illegal war on Iraq would have been much more useful if he’d spoken out when he was being instructed to lie by the White House. Over a million lives wasted that have resulted from our invasion could have been saved.
Better late than never. I am glad that McClellan finally spoke up. It is a good thing, not a bad thing, that his conscience bothered him.
It’s good, not bad, that McClellan revealed dirty secrets, secrets that were no secret to those of us who were saying it all along in the anti-war movement. But the fact that an insider revealed it carries a great deal of weight. It makes this country’s leaders’ deceit all the harder for their ardent defenders to refute and dismiss as the ravings of malcontents. I don’t care whether McClellan made a bundle of money for doing it. I don’t even care what his motives are as long as he’s telling the truth. I’d happily trade the money he made for the hundreds of billions spent on this immoral and unjust war.
As for Stephanopoulos, Miller’s right, the man’s clearly his own biggest fan. But just because he thinks the world revolves him is no reason to lower a wall of secrecy around the White House even thicker than what already exists. Miller’s advocating promised silence as a condition for serving in the White House extends the trend that Glenn Greenwald correctly decries as the increasing non-accountability surrounding the executive branch (and the government more generally).
As Barbara Bowley reveals at length in her chapter “The Campaign for Unfettered Power: Executive Supremacy, Secrecy and Surveillance “ in my book, Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney:
In May 2006 USA Today revealed that since 2001 the NSA has been illegally and covertly collecting a massive database of calls placed by tens of millions of Americans. In May 2006, shortly after this startling revelation, Bush nominated Gen. Michael Hayden to be the new CIA Director. As NSA chief from 1999 to 2005, Hayden oversaw that agency’s massive, illegal surveillance. During his confirmation hearings, Hayden refused to publicly answer any probing questions about this surveillance, continuing to claim against all evidence that he and the NSA were abiding by the law.