Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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September 12, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

ACCOUNTABILITY....Garance Franke-Ruta has a question about "accountability":

I hear so many people saying the same basic thing as Krugman Bush must be held accountable that I thought maybe it would be good to get a discussion going and unpack this....What one thing has to occur in order for it to be clear that Bush has been held accountable by voters or the opposition party?

Well, we'd all like to see the press keep their newfound spine, but I wouldn't count on that. And we'd certainly like to see Republicans pay a price at the polls in 2006, but that's more an objective than a strategy. The question is, how do we keep "accountability" front and center for the next year or so?

Since I have very little imagination, I'm going to suggest an old standby: ripping off the Contract With America. This time, though, the contract would be solely about promises to restore accountability to politics. I'll let someone else worry about the wordsmithing, but here are the kinds of bullets I have in mind:

  • Freedom of Information Act. Repudiate John Ashcroft's 2001 memo (and the White House followups) that encourage agencies to refuse FOIA requests even when no harm would result from disclosure.

  • Congressional Ethics. Revitalize ethics investigations by guaranteeing bipartisan ethics committees in which both parties have the right to subpoena records.

  • Independent Commissions. Ensure proper oversight of government operations by appointing independent commissions to investigate disasters like Hurricane Katrina, not handpicked committees designed to provide political cover.

  • Presidential Papers. Immediately reverse George Bush's 2001 executive order blocking access to a huge swath of presidential papers from previous administrations.

  • Task Forces. Open up the operation and deliberations of federal task forces to the public. No more repeats of the secretive Energy Task Force run by Dick Cheney.

  • Classification. Reverse President Bush's 2003 executive order that substantially increased the ability of federal agencies to classify information that had previously been open to the public.

  • The Press. Provide a personal promise from every Democrat that they will not lie to reporters under cover of anonymity. If they do, reporters are free to break their promises of confidentiality.

  • Legislative Text. Revive the old rule that the text of new legislation must be available for a minimum of three days before roll call votes are taken.

  • Voting. Schedule all congressional votes for normal business hours and restrict voting to the normal 15-minute period. Laws should not be passed in the dead of night and voting should not be kept open indefinitely.

I'm sure I've missed some important issues here, but you get the idea. You can add other bullets in comments. The basic theme, though, is obvious: to persuade the public that Republicans have been governing via a combination of corruption and secrecy that prevents them from being held accountable to the voters. A series of short and punchy promises to govern openly and honestly has the potential to put Bush and the Republican leadership on the defensive how can they argue against openness? and to attract voters regardless of ideology.

Is this worth a try? Maybe. Is it worth at least a discussion? Definitely.

Kevin Drum 2:52 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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