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Big Mo for putting C-SPAN cameras on 'fiscal cliff' talks

If there is such a thing as a "tipping point" for proposals in the public policy arena, opening the "fiscal cliff" talks to C-SPAN cameras may have passed it.

Two days after the election, I wrote in this space that putting the cameras in the room with President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner was the only way for the public to know who is serious and who is still playing politics. Shining the light would also be more likely to force a genuine compromise.

That column got a tepid response. So I fired off another missive repeating the suggestion here last week. It's become clear this time around that others who are much smarter than I are thinking the same thing.

Like Grover Norquist, already famous as the political Machiavelli of supply-side economics thanks to his anti-tax hike pledge signed by virtually every influential Republican figure of the past two decades.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" last Sunday, Norquist said Obama "should get in a room with C-SPAN cameras there and negotiate. ... Let's have the cameras there. If the Republicans are being reasonable, we'll see that. If they aren't, we'll see that."

This wasn't the first time Norquist has spoken in favor of letting the sun shine in on the professional politicians; he and I have been on the same page on these issues for a long time.

But until fairly recently, that page was a lonely place to be for those of a Right cast of mind. Transparency and accountability in government weren't high priorities for too many Washington conservatives.

That began changing in a big way in 2006, thanks to the Internet, Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK, and, perhaps ironically, then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL. Coburn and Obama co-sponsored the Federal Funding Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006, aka "Coburn-Obama," which was signed by President George W. Bush.

Coburn-Obama mandated establishment of the first-ever official website -- USASpending.gov -- that put most federal spending within a few mouse clicks for anybody with Internet access. The site isn't perfect, but it's helped fuel a growing citizen journalism movement on the Right.

Coburn-Obama also has helped propel a growing awareness on the Right of the crucial importance of transparency and accountability. Steadily growing legions of conservatives understand now that Big Government and Big Transparency are perpetual enemies.

That recognition is seen in the response to the notion of putting C-SPAN cameras in the fiscal cliff talks. John Fund, an influential opinion journalist on the Right, lauded the idea, both for its intrinsic merits and because "secret talks allow the White House to avoid having the Congressional Budget Office score its proposals and reveal them to be as phony as the last Obama budget, which not a single Democrat in the Senate voted for."

Similarly, as U.S. News & World Report's Peter Roff noted, the idea is getting traction among groups like the Conservative Action Project, a consortium of activists headed by former Attorney General Ed Meese.

It's also fascinating watching prominent journalists responding to the idea. When Norquist delivered his comments, for example, NBC's David Gregory instantly scoffed, saying, "That's not going to happen, you know that."

Gregory has a surprisingly closed mind for a man in his profession, but his cynicism makes it easy to imagine hearing his exact words in response to predictions in 2007 that Obama would be elected president in 2008, in 1988 that the Berlin Wall would ever come down or in 1993 that Democrats would lose control of Congress for the first time in more than 40 years.

Think he said the same thing a few years ago about predictions that someday soon more people would get their news from the Internet than from ABC, CBS and NBC?

Mark Tapscott is executive editor of The Washington Examiner.