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Open Sesame

Apr
15
2004

He seems an unlikely apostle, but is it possible that former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean has caught the Cluetrain? Or are we just seeing the return of good, consciously run, government? It’s food for thought.
Today’s New York Times carries a front page story in which a host of critics on both sides of the Congressional aisle, Democrats and Republicans, go after Kean and his 9/11 Commission for being too open.


That’s right. It’s come to this. Government is being attacked for being too available, too honest about its deliberations with the reporter citing the Warren Commission as one that did its work less publicly. That’s downright silly. The Warren Commission did a better job than the Masons in spawning thousands of conspiracy theories. It’s enough to make your average secret society jealous.
It’s not business as usual in lawyerly Washington to have a set of proceedings as public as the ones being conducted by the 911 Commission but, well, these are not usual times. The commission seems to be working on a counterintuitive idea: Their work is too important to be done behind closed doors. Watch what happens when President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney testify – the spin will be ferocious – it’s already hurricane strength. What’s interesting about is that the 9/11 commission’s demonstrated openness is going to slightly tilt the scale in its direction, isn’t it? Shrewd, no?
For this and other reasons – they almost always appear in bi-partisan pairs, they keep the attack rhetoric down to a dull roar — I’ve been pretty impressed with the commission. Not only do I like its web site, one of the better efforts made by any agency of the U.S. Government, but I think it’s deliberations – yes, the ones in public – have been characterized by a general lack of partisanship. That doesn’t mean they don’t ask pointed questions and that doesn’t mean there isn’t a little political jockeying going on. It means that things haven’t gotten out of hand and, to a large extent, that Kean’s doing. More and more, as this comment to the Times illustrates, he just seems like a sensible guy, one who understands that the work the commission is doing can’t really – not in this day and age – be done in secret.
Mr. Kean said even if he wanted to avoid the news media, it would be next to impossible in the age of the major 24-hour news networks. “People are going to be talking about us anyway,” he said. “We would rather have the commission talking about us rather than talking heads.”

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