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May 20 2013

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The Scandals Come Home to Roost

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Among those who are properly horrified by the serial abuses of power now revealed to the American people through the “trifecta” of scandals that have descended upon the Obama administration, there is a silver lining. It is possible that when the full extent of the collective wrongdoing is finally exposed, that it will have been the Obama administration itself which undermined and discredited Obamaism. What two campaigns and billions of dollars could not do, would be accomplished by the natural impulses of empowered theological liberalism, unleashed.

Make no mistake, these are not run of the mill scandals. We have to go back to the Nixon administration to find such breathtaking and manifold abuses of power as we see today at the IRS. And the presidential response? Not since the besieged White House of Bill Clinton has America been forced to diagram presidential pronouncements, and those of his aides, so exactingly to discern the difference between what was stated and what was implied.

Still not convinced? Consider the implications of these three scandals through this counter-factual – George W. Bush is the president.

If the New York Times kept Abu Gharib on the front page for 47 consecutive days, what would they do to Bush if these scandals had happened on his watch?

Indeed, for those fans of alternate history, today’s Washington provides an intriguing view of what Watergate may have looked like had the press actually loved Richard Nixon.

What marries Benghazi, the IRS and the AP phone taps investigation into a single, thematic narrative is a government that has been insufficiently zealous in its respect and management of power, as it is with its acquisition.

Take Benghazi. The State Department exercised a conscious, willful and sustained disregard for the security of US diplomatic personnel in Libya, chronicled in more than six months of increasingly desperate requests for additional physical protection by Embassy personnel. The State Department inexplicably waived statutory security requirements in Libya, requirements applied to all US diplomatic outposts  This despite intelligence community assessments that pointed to a prohibitively high security risk, including active jihadist surveillance of US facilities.

After the attack occurred, the fundamental choice for State was stark. Fess up to nothing short of monumental incompetence at the highest levels, or worse, acknowledge that US “puny-laterism” in Libya required an inoffensive and subordinated diplomatic footprint, and that this structure, this “public face,” was more important to US foreign policy than the security requirements necessary to protect American lives. Either path entailed a political risk, and any sustained investigation could expose both.

Which is why, after the September 11th terrorist attack, seven weeks before a presidential election – and five days after POTUS himself had all but declared al Qaeda beaten at the DNC- that the Administration set upon a parallel narrative, wholly at odds with the facts as those facts were known within the government – up to and including the President himself – to buy time until after November 6th and election day. It was a calculated, provocative and brazen use of political power to distract attention from the nature of the attack on Benghazi in the service of a larger goal, to prevent a public discussion concerning the ramifications of the Administration’s “lead from behind” foreign policy strategy, which could have had game-changing consequences for the election.

If Benghazi was a showcase of government’s abject failure to properly utilize existing power in pursuit of a questionable policy objective, the IRS scandal shreds Obamaism’s conceit regarding the centrality of a powerful regulatory state, acting as a leveling, benign, impartial, transparent and efficient tool of social progress. Indeed the IRS scandal is an old and recurring cautionary tale of what happens when broad regulatory power is concentrated in essentially unaccountable agencies.

It’s all here. Democratic congressional pressure to engage in plainly partisan excesses. Politicizing the 501(c)(4) awards process to effectively stifle the 1st amendment rights of conservative organizations. Outrageously invasive and unconstitutional queries into the daily activities of those conservatives who sought 501(c)(4) status. The targeted audits of citizens who publicly opposed President Obama and his policies in 2012. Selected leaks of confidential tax information about prominent conservatives and conservative leaning groups to left-leaning groups, which then published the data for partisan advantage.

Remember Harry Reid’s bombshell charge regarding Mitt Romney’s income taxes? Democratic claims about the Koch brothers and their income taxes? The Obama campaign publicly smearing wealthy Romney donors?

It didn’t make sense as no sources were ever cited.

Until now.

Worse, this despicable official conduct was known. The IRS leadership knew. Indeed, they may be responsible for providing false statements to Congress by officially denying that any extra scrutiny was applied to conservative applicants for tax exempt status.

Now we learn that senior political appointees at the Treasury Department were aware of the abuses in March 2012, and that White House officials were informed of the IG investigation in early April this year. That it was known by senior officials in 2012, and kept private until after the election campaign, only further diminishes agency/Treasury credibility.

But when you have the acting IRS Commissioner, testifying before Congress, stating that the excesses were not political in nature, but rather, “bad customer service,” while maintaining still that the agency did nothing illegal, anger at the timing of the IRS release is the lesser of the problems.

Nothing illegal?  Bad customer service?  Think about that.

It can provide little confidence to the American public, already deeply skeptical about Obamacare, that the current IRS official working to stand up the 17,000 agents and mountain of regulations that will police the health care law – Sarah Hall Ingram – was the former Commissioner of Tax Exempt Organizations from 2009-12. The very organization at the heart of the scandal.

That’s right.  Compliance with Obamacare is now run by the people who managed to goose-step over your 1st amendment rights for over two years with no repercussions.

Fiction writers would be hard pressed to make this stuff up.

And there is the AP leak investigation. Here it is not so much the actions by the Justice Department, but the manner and scope of the investigation that draws scrutiny.

Someone told the AP that a foreign national had infiltrated al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula and that this person had subsequently disrupted a plot to blow up US airliners with a new, less detectable version of the underwear bomb that nearly brought down a jet in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The AP wrote the story with the intention of publishing on May 2nd. US officials, citing security concerns, persuaded the AP to hold the story until May 7th. At that point, when the CIA said it had no further security objections, the AP went ahead and published, despite a lingering conflict with the Obama administration, which wanted to announce the story first.

What resulted was a Justice Department investigation into the original leak, even though the immediate danger had passed. But apparently, instead of a methodical process that sought to identify suspects and gather evidence, Justice went fishing.

Through a secret subpoena, Justice obtained two months of telephone records from 20 lines used by AP (and other) reporters in Washington, New York and Hartford, without notifying AP or anyone else. No less an authority than John Yoo, the Bush Justice Department official who was vilified for his role in drafting the terrorist enhanced interrogation memos, stated that the Obama administration had intruded on press freedoms in a manner that the Bush administration would never have dreamed of.

At this writing, much is unknown.

The security breach was certainly real and consequential. The leaker not only jeopardized the life of the spy, they also cut short the promising work of someone who had gotten to the inner sanctum of al Qaeda in Yemen with the resulting intelligence bonanza it foretold, as well as an indispensable source to warn of  future terror plots.

That said, there are prescribed methods for investigations of this kind that are designed specifically to protect press freedoms. Justice exceeded those methods knowingly, and apparently without fear of being held to account. Indeed, President Obama forcefully defended Justice’s actions in a press conference last week.

What were the inherent inadequacies of existing procedures and protocols that made it necessary for the Justice Department to “go rogue?” Potentially more alarming, was this the exception to the rule, or is this the new normal? Is this simply aggressive police work to find and punish someone who threatened US national security? Or is it also a warning to reporters that insist on digging for and reporting on stories that the Administration disagrees?

We don’t know. And that is chilling.

Overall, the egregiousness of the violations are all the more galling given the complete lack of accountability

Have you noticed how shocked – shocked – President Obama appears to be about things that happen in his own government? And it is bewildering that the White House believes it is a good policy for the President of the United States of America to find out what is going on in his government at the same time as his fellow citizens.

Fast and Furious? Heard about it on AF-1 through a news broadcast.

AP investigation? Heard about it on a news report.

The IRS? POTUS has been at pains to say over and over that he only heard about it when the rest of us did.

Comic John Stewart captured the prevailing sense of absurdity in hilarious fashion when he said that President Obama had probably found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed when he saw himself announcing it on TV.

Reagan, Bush 41 and 43 were vilified for every alleged transgression of their governments, no matter how arcane. President Obama skates by in a world where bad news is almost always someone else’s problem. Adding cheek, David Axelrod, POTUS’ political svengali, even stated – without any apparent irony – that the government was too big for Obama to know everything that was going on in it.

This strains credulity.

What has happened to responsibility? How has accountability morphed into an act of public penance so irrelevant that simply mouthing words of contrition is sufficient? How can you exponentially increase the size and reach of government, when officials can’t effectively manage the government they already have?

Perhaps most troublesome about these scandals is their proper place in the Obama governing narrative. For these are not actions that are exceptions to the story, but rather a continuation of it.

A pork-laden, progressive constituency-rewarding Stimulus passed on a partisan basis. Obamacare, slammed through the legislative process by extraordinary procedure and bought votes, passed on a partisan basis despite the clear opposition of a majority of the American people. An EPA that implements carbon limits by fiat, without congressional authority. Or, HHS going hat in hand to the very companies it will regulate under Obamacare, seeking private funds to implement the healthcare law as budget requests and appropriated funds were inadequate to the task?  And of course, a President who makes controversial Executive branch appointments in contravention of the expressed words of the Constitution (NLRB); now overturned by two federal courts.

This is as disquieting as it is revealing.

Still, despite the range and breath of the scandals, nothing directly implicates the president or the White House in a manner that could be considered criminal. Partisans, outraged by the abuses that have come to light, would do well to show respect for the presidency and focus on the trail of facts instead of their fantasies. The only way investigators will get to the bottom of the scandals is with public trust intact and that is only possible if the investigations are conducted with a measure of integrity and credibility that has been so lacking in Executive branch conduct.

The larger take-away from the scandals is the folly of liberalism as anything more than an aspiration. When government is empowered to organize society from the top down, it loses its connection to the consent of the governed. In the absence of this grass-roots guidance and accountability, government will do what it believes is in its best interests, not as a disinterested and impartial party, as progressives like to believe, but with all the manifold failings that make us human and imperfect.

That is why the Founders put a premium on personal liberty and limits on government power.

It is also the reason that Obama’s governance maybe the tool that ultimately discredits Obamaism.

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