January 23, 2009

Obama: The Change is Real

After the American Century

I must admit that I wondered if the inauguration of Obama would make a visible mark on daily life. But landing in Boston yesterday and talking to people, the random encounters of an ordinary day, strongly suggest that Americans really do sense a major change. At least in New England, George Bush was experienced as a burden that has dropped away, even a nightmare from which they now have awakened.

President Obama's first acts underline the sense of change. His staff, should they leave the White House before he does, will be prohibited from lobbying so long as Obama remains president. This is a much higher ethical standard than before.

Obama has also insisted that government be more open, and that the federal officials should obey the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. That is, they should give out information in all cases unless there is a clear and definite reason not to. Not incidentally. this may reveal some less than noble activities of the Bush Administration. But as time goes on, this openness will become a constant pressure on Obama's appointees as well.

Most significantly, Obama has ordered that the Guantanamo Prison be closed and its inmates either released or placed in American prisons where they will have the protection of the Constitution. He is returning the nation to the rule of law, including a repudiation of any form of torture - which the Bush Administration pursued both in Cuba and through other nations outside the United States.

Finally, Obama has set an example by freezing the salaries of those on his staff who make more than $100,000. Counterpointing this gesture and making its symbolism all the more necessary, it came out today that literally days before Merrill Lynch was purchased by Bank of America, the virtually bankrupt Merrill Lynch gave selected executives huge bonuses - several billion dollars in bonuses. With one hand they were begging for and getting a Federal bailout and with the other they were lining their own pockets. Quite possibly this was not a crime, legally, but ethically it stinks. That was the end of the Bush era, the wage freeze is the ethical beginning of an Obama era that stands for fair play, the rule of law, the abolition of torture, and the end of cozy relations between lobbying and governing.

Not bad for just two days work.