Article originally posted June 20, 2012 at Choose Your Stance.
Operation Fast and Furious was an effort by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) that completely failed, that part of the equation can no longer be debated. The point of the exercise was to allow weapons to flow into Mexico to build a case against smuggling. Supposedly the ATF would track the weapons to their final owners, meaning that many criminals buying and transporting these guns did not get arrested. The term is called “gunwalking”, literally letting the guns walk away. Attorney Eric Holder erroneously told the Congressional Oversight Committee that no gunwalking took place during Fast and Furious. Not only did the committee discover gunwalking had taken place, but that ATF had lost track of about 2000 weapons, some of which later killed American law enforcement.
Today, the Oversight Committee voted to hold Holder in “contempt of Congress” for not turning over subpoenaed documents. The committee split completely along party lines, with all 23 Republicans voting in favor and the 16 Democrats voting against. Putting Holder in contempt would lay the groundwork for a lawsuit. However, in the past, these issues are usually settled without court involvement. (You can find an excellent run down of the committee, the vote and other information at the Oversight Committee’s website: http://fastandfuriousinvestigation.com)
When Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (CA-R) announced the contempt of court vote on June 11th, President Obama rebutted with “executive privilege” over the documents in question. In an alleged letter to Issa (which Issa claims never to have received), Obama said a potential for negotiation still existed. Executive Privilege is a power of the Executive Branch to resist subpoenas and similar commands from Congress. The power is not enumerated in the constitution, but it has been recognized by the Supreme Court. This privilege exists to help protect certain secrets for the government, the kind that would harm the country if released. Over the years, the privilege has been regarded suspiciously, as a way for the President to protect himself and his allies from bad press. (Which is being implied heavily by the Right.) Obama has never before invoked executive privilege during his presidency.
A fine line exists between an open government and keeping our country safe. Released classified military documents could put our armed men and women overseas at risk. Personal documents could invade an individual’s privacy. Overly invasive transparency can distract politicians from their jobs and disrupt them from the work we elect them to do. But most Americans, especially those of us from a younger persuasion, tend to hope for more transparency. We feel like our government is full of dirty, lying politicians; a huge cause of political apathy in our generation. We want the light shown on what they do and why. So which case is this: A time for protection or a time for transparency? The youth voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the last election, and much of it hinged on his promises of increased transparency. Now, the President has specifically invoked a privilege that hides information from Congress and essentially the public. Do the rules just not apply in this case? Eric Holder was already caught misrepresenting the truth, either from ignorance or malice. His agency has not released information to Congress. A scandal for sure; one that a President can hardly ignore during an election year. So, when does this become about politics instead of the best interests of the country?
Transparency is fragile and fleeting. Just as one lie easily grows into another, once the government hides something, it becomes easier and easier to continue to do so. Politicians have proven throughout history that without someone looking over their shoulder, they will do the wrong thing. Keeping an open government is a fight that must be won every single day. So where do you stand on the battle of free information in the case of the Fast and Furious? Is this a battle for transparency?
This article was originally written for Choose Your Stance a project that sought to educate college students on political issues. “Politics Made Easy.” The project has since closed and the articles are republished here.