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Monday, November 10, 2008

Discipline—Not Secrecy

Ken Kerr Bio

These past nearly-eight-years-of-a-Bush-Administration have been arguably the most secretive in White House history. From the very start, President Bush tightened the government's hold on information and limited public scrutiny of his administration's activities. He asserted executive privilege, adopted a restrictively-narrow view of the Freedom of Information Act, stamped everything in sight with national security classification, and was unresponsive to congressional requests for information. This all was before September 11th.

In his second week in office Bush created the now-infamous National Energy Policy Development Group with chairman Dick Cheney, to , "develop a national energy policy designed to help the private sector, and, as necessary and appropriate, State and local governments, promote dependable, affordable, and environmentally sound production and distribution of energy for the future." We still don't know who was invited to that party, but we know how it turned out.

What resulted from these eight years were suspicion; division; and economic, social, and political disaster. It's been a really bad time.

I am tired of all the secrecy and mistrust. It's no way to run a democracy. What I hope to see from President Barack Obama is not secrecy, but discipline.

Obama ran a remarkably disciplined campaign. "No Drama Obama" was its moniker. After being soundly dismissed and ridiculed as "a community organizer," he organized and mobilized a community of volunteers and dispersed them into nearly every populated corner of the country. A junior senator with no executive experience executed a remarkable victory. This is a remarkably capable and disciplined man.

We can only hope that the discipline of the campaign extends to the administration. The selection of Rahm Emanuel as chief-of-staff is a good sign that will be the case. An effective senior advisor to President Clinton, experience as an investment Banker, a term on the Board of Directors for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation ("Freddie Mac"), and five years in the US House of Representatives gives him a near 360o view of the current political landscape.

Emanuel led the Democrats to victory the 2006 elections, and he was a leading candidate for the position of Majority Whip. His oversight of the day-to-day operations at the White House will guarantee a tight ship—not a leaky one.

On the other side of town, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have been less-than-impressive in using their slim majorities. Congress currently has a 17.3 Approval Rating to show for it. South Carolina Democrat James Clyburn, the House Majority Whip will need to bring his "A-Game" come January. In the past, he admitted difficulty of counting votes and rallying the fractious Democratic caucus. He needs to get out the whip and instill some discipline in the 256 Democratic Congresspersons. He picked up 20 seats so far. The Republicans are in disarray. We should know in the first few weeks of the 111th Congress if he is up to the job.

The way I see it, is there are two milestones Obama and Congress have to pass: the first quarter of 2009 and the Congressional Elections of 2010. With some discipline, teamwork, thoughtfulness, and a bit of good luck, they may be able to turn this mess around. We need them to. And it will take discipline.

In very broad terms, "discipline" is systematic instruction given to a disciple. Given the messianic expectation many have of our new president, maybe that is an appropriate way of thinking of the word.

But it is the origin of the word, the Latin disciplina meaning "instruction," from the Latin root discere meaning, "to learn," that we come to understand discipline as a means to instruct a person to follow a particular code of conduct, or to adhere to a certain "order."

We must all exercise some discipline in the coming months and years. We don't need secrecy and insular thinking. We need to work together in an orderly, courteous way. If Democrats can show themselves to be effective and as acting in the best interest for the future of our country, Americans will respond to that with gratitude and support.

Let's hope we are up to that challenge.

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