As Larry Lessig has explained most eloquently:
Obama hasn't played the game that he promised. Instead, the game he has
played has been exactly the game that Hillary Clinton promised and that
Bill Clinton executed: striking a bargain with the most powerful
lobbyists as a way to get a bill through -- and as it turns out, the
people don't have the most powerful lobbyists. As I watched this
strategy unfold, I could not believe it. The idealist in me certainly
could not believe that Obama would run a campaign grounded in "change"
yet execute an administration that changed nothing of the "way
But the pragmatist in me also could not
believe it. I could not begin to understand how this administration
thought that it would take on the most important lobbying interests in
America and win without a strategy to change the power of those most
important lobbying interests. Nothing close to the reform that Obama
promised is possible under the current system; so if that reform was
really what Obama sought, changing the system was an essential first
Yet the Obama Administration is still pretending that it has governed in accordance with its 2008 platform. Said White House spokesman Eric Schultz, "The people selected for this article are registered lobbyists, but this article excludes the thousands of people who visit the White House every week for meetings and events who are not. Our goal has been to reduce the influence of special interests in Washington -- which we've done more than any administration in history."
It's time for the Obama Administration to come clean and stop insulting our intelligence. On numerous subjects, Candidate Obama and President Obama have taken contradictory approaches. On lobbying, transparency, whistle-blower protection, the War Powers Resolution, the Patriot Act, indefinite detention, and other issues besides, either candidate Obama was lying about his views -- the uncharitable explanation -- or else something about becoming president changed his mind, whether new information or different responsibilities or a new perspective.
And we're owed an explanation. Obama should explain that while he's achieved some of what he promised as a candidate, like passing a major health-care-reform bill, killing Osama bin Laden, and pulling American troops out of Iraq, he also came to think that he got some things wrong back in 2007 and 2008, and that he owes Americans an account of why his thinking changed.
I honestly don't know whether such an accounting would help or hurt him politically. That probably depends on how adeptly he executed it. What's safer to say is that it would end the ongoing charade that there have been no major reversals. It's that sort of dishonesty that alienates voters from the democratic process. It can even be radicalizing, as critics of the status quo cease trusting even pols who say the right things. Obama said he'd be an antidote to such cynicism. Unless he changes course, his legacy will include having exacerbated it, perhaps permanently. If so, he'll do significant long-term damage to the progressive project, which depends most heavily on public faith in a functional federal government that serves the people.