Barack Obama

Change He Can Believe In

Some unsolicited advice for Barack Obama


Since the election, the newspapers and Internet have been flooded with unsolicited advice for President-elect Barack Obama. I'll go ahead and add mine.

I don't agree with Obama on much (I don't agree with the current administration on much, either), so I won't make an appeal with him to compromise with the Republicans on the issues where I agree with them. Instead, here are a few recommendations—some substantive, some symbolic—of moves Obama could make that are consistent with the principles he articulated during the campaign:

Increase government transparency. The Bush administration has been the most secretive in history. Bush and his appointees have sought to undermine open records, open meetings, and Freedom of Information regulations at every turn. They've classified huge swaths of government documents, usually with no justification, including classifying such odd items as Associated Press articles and old press releases from federal agencies. Obama should not only stop this mass secrecy, he should reverse it. He should set up a committee of experts, preferably including representatives from groups like the ACLU, media advocacy organizations, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to go back and review his predecessors' dangerous efforts to govern in the dark.

Open up the White House. This would largely be a symbolic move, but I think it's an important one. For years now, the public roads around the White House have been closed off. The process began after a deranged man attempt to scale a White House fence during the Clinton administration, with a second round of closings coming after September 11. Obama will get a fight from the Secret Service, but he should work to reopen the roads around the White House, and generally increase public access to it. The White House is owned by taxpayers, and the officials who work in it work for them. Setting the White House off like a fortress reinforces the unhealthy insularity and isolation too prevalent in the current administration.

Swear off executive privilege. The concept of "executive privilege" states that presidential aides should be immune to subpoenas to testify in court or before congressional oversight committees. The justification for executive privilege is that presidential aides won't be as open and candid with advice if there's a chance they could be summoned at a later date. That's a weak justification. The president's aides work for the public, and get a federal paycheck. If they don't want to be asked about their advice later, they should refrain from giving the president ethically or legally dubious advice.

Revamp the Transportation Security Administration. And by "revamp," I mean "start over." Most security experts agree that the rigmarole we go through at the airport is mere security theater, designed not to make us safer, but to make us feel safer by making it increasingly inconvenient to fly. TSA's approach to security is too reactionary—too set on preventing attacks and attempted attacks that have already happened. And please, whatever you do, resist the temptation to let TSA workers unionize. Security from terror attacks should not be a federal jobs program. You need the authority to fire underperforming screeners quickly and effortlessly. Three game-changing possibilities to head up TSA: security guru Bruce Schneier, Cato Institute security and technology scholar Jim Harper, or Ohio State University's John Mueller.

Investigate the Bush administration. Your running mate, Joe Biden, said during the campaign that an Obama administration would thoroughly investigate the Bush administration for evidence of criminal and ethical wrongdoing. There will be pressure not to. You'll hear arguments from Washington's standard-bearers that to do so would be mean-spirited, backward-looking, or partisan. You'll hear the claim that aggressively investigating your predecessor will set a bad precedent, whereby future administrations will investigate their predecessors every time the White House changes parties. Ignore them. Because the Bush administration has been so secretive, we aren't even yet sure of the damage done, particularly by Vice President Cheney and his lackeys, the Office of Legal Counsel. If you're serious about undoing the harm done to the Constitution by this administration, you'll need to know the extent of the damage. That includes not only members of Bush and Cheney's immediate staff and top-level advisers, but looking into politically motivated and possibly malicious prosecutions by the current administration's U.S. attorneys.

Make fighting public corruption a top priority of your justice department.
The Bush administration's Justice Department spent limited taxpayer resources on ridiculous cases like prosecuting distributors of pornography (I refer here to the consenting-adults sort of pornography), people who sell marijuana pipes over the Internet, and doctors who may or may not have overprescribed prescription painkillers (as determined by Justice Department officials, not other doctors). When they did pursue public officials, those prosecutions tended to be motivated by partisan grudge-settling. Your Justice Department should put public officials at all levels of government—of all political persuasions—on notice that abuses of power and position won't be tolerated. When a politician abuses the public trust and gets away with, or gets a slap on the wrist, it lends credibility to the notion that we have a two-tiered criminal justice system—one for the powerful and well-connected, and another for everyone else.

Use the pardon. On the campaign trail, you've expressed some concern about the soaring incarceration rate. Surely your time as a community organizer and in the classroom as a constitutional law professor have also shown you that the criminal justice system is far from flawless. The Founders knew that a criminal justice system made up of flawed men would inevitably produce flawed results, and so created the presidential pardon power as a last check on possible injustices that may have fallen through the courts. Unfortunately, the pardon power has in recent times been used mostly for political patronage, or as a show of redemption to admitted, guilty people who have since rehabilitated themselves. The staff you assign to review pardons should proactively look for cases of possible injustice—of wrongful prosecutions, or in cases where application of the law still somehow produced an unjust outcome.

Radley Balko is a senior editor at
reason. A version of this article originally appeared at

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  1. Why would he listen to you, Radley? You didn’t do a 16-page centerfold of him, worshiping every…inch of his……victory.

  2. Not a bad list of suggestions he’s not going to take, Radley. You might have suggested he shock us out of our socks and leave gun rights alone.

    Also, I really wanted a pony.

  3. Free ponies for all…that’s a pretty good platform suggestion. I’d love a pony.

    Mmmmmmmm, horse meat.

  4. Not a bad list at all. Though I’d prefer just scrapping TSA entirely. I was telling a friend about the big problem with it: the lines are a great target for bombers, you have a couple hundred people just standing around who would otherwise be spread throughout the building.

  5. Investigate the Bush administration.

    Get em up against the wall

  6. I say those are reasonable suggestions, and I would hope that he might take up at least 3 of them. Taking up none would be CHANGE I ACTUALLY EXPECT.

  7. Breaking news . . . . the 2012 election campaign has begun . . . . Bobby Jindal will be in Cedar Rapids, Iowa for a fundraiser this Saturday.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled bitch fest.

  8. Dude, we’re getting ponies? I’m cleaning out my garage today!

  9. Why do you think they call it hope?

    Get em up against the wall

    What crimes would charge them with specifically?

    And I see that Obama has that old DNC-Centrist Tom Daschle coming into HHS. The more things “change”, the more they stay the same…

  11. Change You Can Retreat From.

  12. Right, Obama is going to listen to an obscure (sorry!) right-wing libertarian whose vision is so clouded by confirmation bias that he could legally use a white cain.

  13. Hope… I get a pony for Christmas!

  14. That post wasn’t mine you swine fondling Randtards!

  15. The Audacity of Nope.

  16. Dear Obama,

    Deliver my pony under the bridge. No more goats! My little troll almost choked to death on the brittle, splintery goat bones. Thank you.




  17. “Right, Obama is going to listen to an obscure (sorry!) right-wing libertarian whose vision is so clouded by confirmation bias that he could legally use a white cain.”

    The real Lefiti or not,

    Of course not!

    He’s too fucking stupid to do something that might actually work.

  18. What’s sad is that we all strongly suspect that Obama will do none of the above. We might get a little superficial move on declassifying documents, but that’s not worth much.

    Daschle? Dear God, is Obama attempting to offend me with every cabinet choice? Why does he bother? I’m just an excluded, unworthy of notice libertarian.

  19. Iowan–

    That is why I could never, ever live in Iowa. Non-stop Presidential campaigning.

  20. Daschle? Dear God, is Obama attempting to offend me with every cabinet choice?

    So what are we at now? Zero for four? I wonder how long he can keep this up. Can he make politics-as-usual and awful picks all the way to the Dept. of Energy? The Interior? Silly Walks?

  21. That is why I could never, ever live in Iowa. Non-stop Presidential campaigning.

    Another reason to hate Jimmy Carter.

  22. Well, if it comes to that, there’s only one possible choice for Silly Walks, regardless of your creed or religion.

    By the way, I wonder how much he’s going to “do something more” in regards to global warming and other environmental issues. Get Kyoto ratified? Ban cars? Do nothing?

  23. “He should set up a committee of experts, preferably including representatives from groups like the ACLU, media advocacy organizations, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to go back and review his predecessors’ dangerous efforts to govern in the dark.”

    Yea, and he could sell popcorn and cotton-candy… you know, make it a REAL circus….

    Would Obama be the ringleader? or who do you suggest Radley?

  24. Pray to the Earth Mother?

  25. No pony for you! Next!

  26. Rahm Emmanuel = Teh Sexy

    What. The. Fuck?

    And these ladies lament the fact they are single. (Hint: Maybe it has something to do with the fact you girls are nuts.)

  27. You bastards! I’ll get you for this!

  28. Get em up against the wall

    That one looks Jewish
    And that one’s a coon
    Who let all of this riff-raff into the room?
    Ther’es one smoking a joint
    And another with spots
    If I had my way
    I’d have all of you shot

  29. I was sitting here thinking and this thought struck me…

    After all that time and money spent during the election, what actually was the outcome?

    Just another black family moving into government housing

  30. I haven’t posted on this thread yet, dingbats!

  31. Spitzer’s ho is apparently going the public confession route. Apparently, she’s given up whoring for, well, another type of whoring. She’s dressing like a pure, innocent girl now.

  32. That is a very good list, Mr. Balko. Especially these are all things that the President can do unilaterally, well within the enumerated powers of the office. So much unsolicited advice I’ve seen for the President-Elect starts with “create new legislation” or “create a cabinet-level post” or “order the military” type-tripe. Another thing I would do if President, and I believe also within the administrative powers of the President, is to have the OMB release a “shadow” budget proposal every year alongside the “real” one to Congress. The only difference between the two is that the Shadow OMB budget would be compiled using GAAP rules like every major business does. It would be a simple administrative step, but would do well to illustrate the actual financial situation of the country’s balance sheet and the horror will all know it to really be.

    While it makes things look doomy and gloomy by comparison to the cooked book OMB dumps every year, it definitely ties into the whole transparency aspect of good governance. Just like Enron, the government has gotten good at duping and obfuscating the people about finance and its financial condition, right before their eyes on paper.

  33. Radley-

    I don’t necessarily object to your idea of investigating the Bush admnin. I just have absolutely no confidence that the fire breathers won’t turn it into a partisan witch hunt to exact revenge on political enemies.

    It would be a colossal waste of time and money when we need to be addressing more pressing problems.

  34. I suspect Obama might be open to some of these suggestions if enough people ask the same thing.

    Increase government transparency. It wouldn’t be hard to be more transparent than the Bush Administration. Obama probably won’t want to take action on his predecessors’ dirty laundry, but I can see him being more transparent than the last three presidents.

    Open up the White House. I’m not sure what the situation is, but the area around the White House fences should certainly be open to pedestrian traffic. I wouldn’t necessarily want someone to park outside the fences. (See: Oklahoma City Bombing.)

    Swear off executive privilege He won’t completely swear it off, but it gets ridiculous and he can rein it in with a friendly Congress.

    Use the pardon Frankly, this is something I think Obama probably will do and in the way you suggest.

  35. How about ending the drug war and funding for the Colombian civil war we caused?

  36. Make fighting public corruption a top priority of your justice department

    Great idea, I just don’t think you’ll get Dodd, Murtha, Moran, William Jefferson, Alcee Hastings, etc. etc. to go along.

    Investigate the Bush administration? That would end up being a self-inflicted wound greater than Clinton’s trumpeting of sexual harassment law. I doubt if Obama wants to give that precedent to the Republican who follows him.

  37. How about ending the drug war and funding for the Colombian civil war we caused?

    With Rahm Emanuel locked and loaded, I would expect a good deal of hand-wringing and retreat on Obama’s part even on things he’s stated he would end, such as to stop prosecuting dope dispensaries in CA and the associated DEA raids.

    The Drug Warrior constituency has a monopoly on the moral high-ground in so much as social power in this debate is concerned. And they agonize and cry like no other group when challenged on their lack of clothing. Scream ever louder with the voice of power to drown out the rational debate and keep it more like this:

    The debate is not whether to aim Uncle Sam’s guns at illegal (read: underprivileged, under-lawyered)drug users or even whether to shoot, its whether you use rubber bullets in a twisted “tough-love” mind-set, or use lethal ammunition in a “get tough on crime” mind-set. Rahm eschews the rubber and likes mercury tips unfortunately when he loads his anti-drug AK.

  38. Open up the White House. I’m not sure what the situation is, but the area around the White House fences should certainly be open to pedestrian traffic. I wouldn’t necessarily want someone to park outside the fences. (See: Oklahoma City Bombing.)

    The area around the White House is indeed open to pedestrian traffic, but only pedestrian traffic. That’s the way it has been since a nutjob during the Clinton administration brought a semi-automatic rifle to the sidewalk on Pennsylvania Avenue and started opening fire on the White House. (Yes, you read that right: the government responded to an assassination attempt by a pedestrian by closing Pennsylvania Avenue to everyone but pedestrians.) And 9/11 (which apparently involved terrorists driving airplanes down Pennsylvania Avenue) was cited as a reason for never reconsidering the decision to close Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicular traffic.

  39. I worked at the White House (more precisely, the NEOB) just a month or so after Oklahoma City. That was the real impetus for the closing of Pennsylvania Avenue. I think they could safely open it up again without too much risk. We have other means of protecting the president and his staff. And the McDonald’s on 17th.

  40. Thanks Seamus. They could probably open up enough to let people drive down the street.

  41. I think BO should prove that he’s eligible to be POTUS according to our constitution before doing anything! He needs to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s even natural born. Where’s his long form birth certification along with all his other personal records that have been locked down?

    What else has Obama failed to provide to a public – and an electorate – that deserves to know everything possible about a presidential candidate?

    * Occidental College records – not released.
    * Columbia Thesis paper – not available, locked down by faculty.
    * Harvard College records – not released, locked down by faculty.
    * Selective Service Registration – forgery.
    * Medical records – not released (only a one-page report).
    * Illinois State Senate schedule – ‘not available.’
    * Law practice client list – not released.
    * Certified Copy of original Birth certificate – not released.
    * Embossed, signed paper Certification of Live Birth – not released.
    * Harvard Law Review articles published – None.
    * University of Chicago scholarly articles – None.
    * Record of Baptism– Not released or ‘not available.’
    * Illinois State Senate records–‘not available.’

    We do know that he’s a liberal fascist, socialist, and Marxist.

  42. Mike from Arizona – you’re a fucking idiot.

    Please go to Intrade and set up a market for the exclusion of Obama from eligible status as a POTUS as I will be happy to offset your trade money.

  43. shrike,

    A little too close to the truth for you? I thought so. Enjoy the socialism, lack of free speech, and his Nazi SS police force.

  44. Oops. I forgot the much higher taxes! Oh, but that’s only if you’re working. If not, he’ll give you money.

  45. Here’s my advice to President Obama – PARDON BUSH! As Obama takes office, the Democrats should begin to demand the Obama Administration investigate all aspects of Bush and his corrupt administration for all sorts of potential criminal violations. They should conduct a few hearings on topics such as torture, no-bid Halliburton contracts, kickbacks and war profiteering, and illegal spying on American citizens.

    As the Republicans get all whiny and embarrassed, Obama should “do the right thing” and officially pardon Bush (and Cheney) in a primetime speech to the nation, a la Gerald Ford pardoning Nixon. There’s no rule that says someone must be indicted before the President can pardon him. Obama should pardon Bush for all (federal) crimes, known and unknown, which Bush committed against the United States of America during his 8 years in office. This will accomplish three things. First, forever brand Bush as a criminal. Second, it will do this without actually having to investigate the Bush Administration – something we all know the Democrats lack the balls to do. Third, it will make Obama look like a mature, resonable man who sincerely wants to move forward and put partisanship and Bush-hatred behind us. Could there possibly be a greater, more effective political ploy than Obama taking the initiative to pardon Bush? I did a quick Google search and it seems a few others have had this idea cross their minds, too.

    Best of all, what could Bush and the Republicans possibly say other than “thank you, President Obama”? They’d be accused and forgiven at the same time, with one stroke of a pen. And it’s not like Bush is ever actually going to be prosecuted anyway. Ditto for Cheney. So why not officially put the lawlessness of the Bush years behind us with Obama giving Bush a universal Presidentail Pardon? Help the country move on, but the Bush nightmare in our past, and what could be more “Jesus-like” than forgiving your enemy of the crimes he committed? Seriously, how could the right-wing Christians possibly complain with a straight face? Yeah they’d find a way, but still, most people would see Obama as the one doing the right thing, a kind, compassionate act. It should be one of the first things he does when he takes office. Checkmate!

  46. “Right, Obama is going to listen to an obscure (sorry!) right-wing libertarian whose vision is so clouded by confirmation bias that he could legally use a white cain.”


    Looks like he’s not just paying attention to reason but signing little bits of paper they give him!

    Anyone reckon he’ll stick to that?

  47. Pony food is too expensive…so I just shot my pony.

  48. Radly Balko. That advice is absolute fecal matter…Obama is going to do what is politically expedient, as has been his course throughout his short-lived political career. The best thing that happened to Illinois is that B.O. got elected President…he’s done NADA for us.

    BruceM: You really should lay off the hash…really. It’s making you paranoid.

  49. Here’s my advice to President Obama – PARDON BUSH!

    LoL!! BUt you are right, it is actually a brilliant idea. I like it…

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