Jon Chait on democracy and the Bush administration:

A democracy, he told Al Arabiya television in May during an interview on the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, is “where leaders are willing to discuss it with the media. And we act in a way where, you know, our Congress asks pointed questions to the leadership. In other words, people want to know the truth. That stands in contrast to dictatorships. A dictator wouldn’t be answering questions about this.” It’s ironic that Bush used this definition because, by this measure, he has run the least democratic administration of any president since the advent of television and radio. Since Franklin Roosevelt made press conferences a regular feature, Bush has held fewer of them than any president–14 solo press conferences, as compared with Bill Clinton’s 41 and George H.W. Bush’s 77 at this point in their presidencies. When he does appear before the press, Bush routinely refuses to answer difficult questions.

…Yet Bushies show no more willingness to answer pointed questions from Congress. Last month, Attorney General John Ashcroft refused to release the administration’s memos on the use of torture and refused even to offer a legal basis for his refusal. These sorts of incidents have become routine. In 2002, the administration denied requests to have Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge testify on Capitol Hill. That same year, Medicare Director Scully refused to appear at a hearing where witnesses with different points of view were allowed to testify. Last fall, the Bush White House declared it would not answer any questions from Democrats on the Appropriations Committees unless those questions were first cleared with the Republican chairmen. (This latter demand was so outrageous that the administration had to drop it after even congressional Republicans objected.)

…Who else has the White House tried to keep in the dark? Oh yes: the public–the people who Bush says “want to know the truth.” “For the past three years, the Bush administration has quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government–cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters,” concluded a long investigation by U.S. News & World Report last December. “The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government.” Consider just one example. Bush’s 2004 budget cut grants to the states (outside of Medicaid, which rises automatically) by 2.4 percent. After statehouses complained, the administration announced it would cease publishing Budget Information for States, which documents how much states receive from various federal programs. (The administration claimed it did so to save on printing costs.) The result, as Alysoun McLaughlin of the National Conference of State Legislatures told The Washington Post: “There’s no one place in the public domain for this information anymore.”

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