Shady Sunshine

HILLARY CLINTON'S Task Force on National Health Care Reform has been much criticized for not making public the 500-plus members of the group, and for meeting in secret. The criticism comes from unsurprising places - lobbyists worried about changing America's health-care system, and from partisan media. Their argument is that a task force planning the public's business ought to be public, in the sunshine. This is a fair point of debate. Now added is a less credible "media spin" suggesting the first lady i s overseeing a suspicious cabal. The Wall Street Journal this week published task force members names, noting that these are the "anonymous" people who "toil in secret, devising a reform plan that will affect every single American" as if the task force were made up of mercenaries or communists.

Actually, Mrs. Clinton's process makes sense, and the public will be well served by it - though secrecy carried too far creates counterproductive perceptions. One problem changing a health-care system as expensive and entrenched as the current one is the pressure special interests exert on policymakers. The members of the task force should be shielded from this. If the task force were a dozen people meeting in a smoke-filled room, one might worry. But 500 people? That's not a cabal.

Besides, the task force only offers recommendations. These will be subject to public scrutiny and influence when they are debated, at length, in hearings, subcommittees, and before the Congress.

Why is this group so different from many others held in secret? President Bush held closed door meetings to devise policy on the North American Free Trade Agreement - certainly a plan that will affect all Americans, and Canadians and Mexicans as well.

Should all business be conducted in public? Sociologist David Riesman's "The Shady Side of Sunshine," found that individuals in sensitive positions often can't be immediately exposed to public glare - and if so must withdraw, leaving public business to be conducted by those less talented.

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