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OUR OPINION: Let sun and C-SPAN shine in

Democrats are in a hole, news from Bismarck to Boston confirms. They should stop digging. They can start by letting C-SPAN cover the negotiations over the final health care bill, thereby honoring one of President Barack Obama's most specific, rep...

Democrats are in a hole, news from Bismarck to Boston confirms.

They should stop digging. They can start by letting C-SPAN cover the negotiations over the final health care bill, thereby honoring one of President Barack Obama's most specific, repeated and important campaign promises.

"The terms 'gruesome' and 'psychologically devastating' come to mind when thinking about the political developments over the last six weeks for Democrats," wrote Charlie Cook, political columnist for National Journal, on Tuesday.

How bad is it? This bad: The late Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in Massachusetts may be up for grabs. Polls show the Republican candidate within striking distance of the Democrat in the special election that'll take place next week.

Good grief. "This is Massachusetts, after all, where both senators, the governor, all 10 congressional members and a large majority of the state Legislature are Democrats," wrote Jay Newton-Small, a Time magazine columnist.

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"It doesn't get much bluer than the Pilgrim State. ... The big takeaway from the race will be: If Teddy's seat isn't safe, no one's is."

Granted, some events that have brought this about are beyond Democrats' full control. Obama inherited a freefalling economy and two difficult wars, factors that would have challenged Solomon himself.

But some of the wounds have been self-inflicted, and the latest tussle with C-SPAN is one.

As a candidate, Obama pledged again and again to make health care reform transparent. "Here's the thing: We're going to do all these negotiations on C-SPAN so the American people will be able to watch these negotiations," he said in March 2008.

In August, he repeated the claim. "We'll have the negotiations televised on C-SPAN, so that people can see who is making arguments on behalf of their constituents, and who is making arguments on behalf of the drug companies or the insurance companies," he said.

As Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., has pointed out, Obama even criticized former President Bill Clinton for refusing to open the health care reform process:

"I respect what the Clintons tried to do in 1993 in moving health reform forward," Obama said, "but they made one really big mistake, and that is, they took all their people and all their experts and put them into a room, and then they closed the door."

In contrast, "we'll work on this process publicly, it'll be on C-SPAN, it'll be streaming over the net."

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Last week, C-SPAN asked to cover the meetings that will reconcile the House and Senate health care bills.

Congress and the White House refused.

Democratic leaders tried to explain away the decision. The camera's presence would slow down negotiations, they said. Besides, the GOP never televised such meetings when it had the power.

But those excuses sound hollow when compared with Obama's ringing pledges on the campaign trail. Blaming the GOP's old habits is especially counterproductive because Obama made his pledges specifically to distance himself from those habits and to promise something new.

Trend isn't destiny, and there's still time before Election Day for Democrats to reverse their slide. But to do so, the party must act decisively and soon. Inviting C-SPAN into the reform-bill negotiation rooms would be a great place to start.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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