The broken C-Span pledge, and why it matters

Republicans and an increasing number of independent observers are criticizing President Barack Obama for his failure to honor a promise he made repeatedly during last year’s campaign. On at least eight occasions throughout the primary and general election, the candidate told voters that health care reform would be worked out before the public eye, with discussion and deliberation televised on C-Span.

As an overhaul nears completion in Congress, the unmet pledge signals a stark reminder not merely of presidential limitations but of this president’s true nature, and the fundamental deception that marked and enabled his successful campaign for the office. More on that later, but first the facts.

Here’s Barack Obama on the campaign trail, playing up the C-Span pledge in various venues. The clips were compiled by Naked Emperor News, published on, highlighted by the Drudge Report and have spawned a major story in the nation’s at-large news stream. New developments are in part responsible for that trajectory, but the overall attention on the issue testifies to the impact of new media, and some of its right and center-right elements in particular.

The video evidence was headlined by Drudge the day after C-Span chairman and CEO Brian Lamb‘s December 30 letter to House and Senate letters was publicly reported. The public-service cable channel founder asked House and Senate leaders to honor the president’s pledge regarding open negotiations.

While I watch C-Span regularly and value its objective and informative programming, I don’t believe that all aspects of policy-making should necessarily be open to public viewing. In our republic we elect representatives to govern and make decisions on our behalf, and vote them out if they break trust with the public. Americans share certain basic civic responsibilities, but a peering, omnipresent public leads to cynical posturing in our politics.

Nonetheless, the decision not to hold open discussions is a valid and poignant symbol of other shameful steps taken by majority Democrats in this process: disallowing members time to read bills and amendments, threatening an extraordinary and inappropriate use of the reconciliation procedure, calling a key vote at the dead of night, flagrantly buying votes at public expense, bypassing a conference committee and excluding Republican lawmakers from participation at this and earlier junctures.

The president is taking fire for his broken promise from Republicans but also major news outlets, liberal media voices like Bill Press and Jon Stewart, and partisan allies like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri). However, the point to take away from all of this is not that Barack Obama should follow through on his promise to broadcast health care talks on C-Span.

The president does not have authority to televise congressional proceedings. In fact, Congress has no programming authority over C-Span, an independent organization. Leadership may control the cameras in the chambers, but they don’t decide what actually airs on television. These facts underscore the disturbingly casual manipulation in Obama’s empty, repeated assertions and assurances of coverage and the transparency it was supposed to represent. Not only did Barack Obama give his word falsely, or at least lightly, but it wasn’t his to give in the first place.

The entire episode illustrates the single most important political fact about Barack Obama: he is not a moderate, a centrist or a transformative political quantity superimposed upon a national political calculus of competing ideas and interests. Rather, he is an intense ideologue and determined partisan who will naturally use all practical political means to achieve all possible political ends. In this case, the president’s failed and foreign ideology of statism motivates further consolidation of governmental control over the country’s system of health care.

The C-Span flap is reminding many Americans – and thankfully, showing others for the first time as documented by plummeting poll support among independent and moderate voters – that Barack Obama is not who he told us he was. Let’s send him a message in the mid-terms to keep him honest in the future.


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Filed under Corruption, Democratic Party, Health Care, Media

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