Wired magazine is reporting that secrecy is becoming a big campaign issue.
Normally, presidential candidates spend the days leading up to the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary sucking up to hog farmers and singing the praises of those oh-so-flinty New Englanders.
But in the last week, on the eve of the formal start of the 2004 elections, two Democratic contenders took time to talk about a topic that's usually reserved for spooks, conspiracy theorists and a couple of policy geeks: how the government keeps its secrets. There's a faint, but real, possibility that this most opaque of subjects could become a full-blown issue in the presidential campaign.
On Friday, retired Gen. Wesley Clark trotted out his proposals (PDF) to make government more transparent -- just a week after Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman unveiled a similar plan.
In a Manchester, New Hampshire, speech, Clark said he would "restore the public's right to know" by rolling back the Bush administration's expanded powers to make documents classified. He promised to return the powers of the Freedom of Information Act back to where they were before Sept. 11. And Clark vowed to keep public documents posted on the Internet permanently, "unlike the Bush administration, which has repeatedly removed and rewritten postings when politically expedient."
"The vulnerability from Bush's perspective is that he's seen as covering up in favor of the special interests," said John Podesta, who was the White House chief of staff during Bill Clinton's second term. "The secrecy issue is the key into that story line. The public kind of smells a rat. And if you lift the veil a little bit, they'll see the rat's under there."
Last month, U.S. News and World Report devoted a cover story to how "the Bush administration is doing the public's business out of the public eye." And transparency crusader Steven Aftergood, after working in relative obscurity for years as the head of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy, has suddenly found himself the subject of profiles in Esquire and The Washington Post.
Go Clark and Lieberman! I encourage all of the other candidates, and the Democratic Party itself, to follow suit.
In the case of Howard Dean, this is a sticky issue, because of his secrecy of his records in Vermont, but is fully consistent with the rest of his campaign.
All I can say is this, "Come clean Dr. Dean!" This issue - the freedom of information, transparency, and accountability - must be pushed in the larger campaign.
More on Wesley Clark's championing of the freedom of information later this weekend (I consider the freedom of information to be the greatest immediate challenge ahead of us in securing both the blessings of liberty and security in the 21st century and beyond).