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Saturday, May 18, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

One Week

If Obama is a pragmatic centrist, then so am I.

We at Courthouse News Service spend hundreds of thousands every year on lawyers to fight for prompt and full access to court records. It is a matter of business but it is also a matter of principle.

On this first day in office, the new President opens up records at the White House, in a commitment to open government that extends to the entire federal government.

"All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure," he said. "The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public."

Along the same lines, as soon as Obama took the oath, the White House website suddenly became interesting and informative. I checked it for this piece in order to review his executive orders and memoranda.

On the second full day in office, Obama repeals the previous administration's directives allowing torture, and then orders the prompt closure of Guantanamo prison.

Two days later, he rescinds the "Mexico City Policy" prohibiting aid to international organizations such as the UN Population Fund that help with family planning.

And two days after that, he orders mileage standards increased and starts the process for allowing California and other states to require fuel efficiency higher than the federal standards.

Addressing global warming at the same time, he said climate change "could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines and irreversible catastrophe."

"Rigid ideology has overruled sound science," he continued. "Special interests have overshadowed common sense."

Exactly one week after taking office, he gives his first White House interview. It is to an Arab television network, and he says to the Muslim world, "America is not your enemy."

And on the same day, he sends George Mitchell off to the Middle East to, among other things, "ensure that Palestinians in Gaza are able to get the basic necessities they need and that they can see a pathway towards long-term development."

It is pretty amazing first week in office, like turning an aircraft carrier on a dime, reversing the direction and tenor of the federal government in seven days.

If you made a catalogue of the big issues of our time that are affected by governmental policy, open government, women's rights, the war on terror and the Middle East would be well up towards the top. And on all of them, our nation was suddenly moved off what in my view was the wrong path and onto the right one.

Now, massive areas of policy, the economy, healthcare, education and the social net, have suffered from inertia and bad decisions for a long, long time. Those areas will take long, hard slogs to get under control, a lot more work than an executive order.

But now there is certainly some hope.

For example, I have pursued my parents' mission to give me an option to live in France if I ever wanted to, both by confirming dual citizenship in both the U.S. and France and by hiring a French lawyer to pursue the same privilege for my niece and nephews.

There was a certain urgency to that pursuit in the Bush version of the United States, particularly when it seemed that he in fact represented the nation. But as I was walking to work during the first week of the Obama presidency, I realized that the matter of having a back-up plan seemed not nearly as important.

That renewed faith in our government and our nation was encapsulated in one interview, among the hours of inauguration coverage, on CNN.

A granddaughter and her grandfather, who is a black judge in Chicago, had come to attend the inauguration. The young girl, maybe 13, was full of delight, and voluble, high-pitched enthusiasm. But her grandfather could hardly speak. He was crying as he said in an old and husky and just barely audible voice, "We are a good people."

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