"I gave them a sword," Richard Nixon said of his political
enemies during the infamous David Frost, post-resignation
interviews, "and they twisted it with relish." Had the roles been reversed, he said,
"I'd have done the same thing." So, don't look at me to defend the Obama administration over the recent trifecta of
scandals infecting the government. I am an equal opportunity scorn dispenser, and when an abuse of power occurs, it matters not the affection I have for the executive but the severity of the breach of public trust.
President Obama is well aware that his every utterance comes under scrutiny by those who would undermine his presidency, so the careless and stupid actions of his subordinates threaten to squander the moral high ground established during the first term. Now, regardless of the outcome, Obama's second term will be mired in hearings, depositions, and legal briefs. The sharks were already circling. They were just waiting for a little blood in the water. He gave them the sword.
The tragedy of Benghazi is like catnip to the House Republicans and their propaganda arm, Fox News. They have been flogging this story since Ambassador Susan Rice repeated redacted talking points on all the Sunday shows last fall. An ambassador and an aide died in the conflagration, yet the GOP's focus of inquiry has been on the reporting about the attack. Republicans accuse the administration of a "political cover-up," claiming the president's staff manipulated talking points regarding Benghazi in order to influence the 2012 election. In return, the White House released 100 pages of emails which show the CIA was responsible for the blather, which was then edited by someone in the State Department trying to make the agency look better than it deserved. Hillary Clinton's now famous eruption "What difference at this point does it make," in response to questions concerning terrorist involvement in the Benghazi attack, has been turned into a GOP ring-tone in preparation for the 2016 elections. The remainder of her statement, "It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from happening again," was forgotten in the ensuing hysteria.
The IRS targeting of Tea Party groups requesting tax exemption is inexcusable and illegal and deserving of the "heads will roll" attitude of the administration. The IRS acting director, Steve Miller, got dumped. I expected him to sing "Take the Money and Run" upon his departure, but I'm showing my age again.
As long as I am, however, I well remember the IRS being used as a political weapon by Richard Nixon and his crew. What's galling is that these political hit squads, both left and right, are supposed to be "social welfare" organizations that help to inform the electorate about the candidates, which supposedly justifies their tax-exempt status. After the IRS grants that status, the groups are free from reporting on their donors or the amount they spend.
Ironically, the IRS flagged smaller Tea Party organizations for scrutiny while giving the big fish a pass. Karl Rove's American Crossroads super PAC spent over $100 million with such tax-free status, and none of it was for "social welfare." The politicization of the IRS still reflects the fact that Democrats can be as petty and ruthless as their counterparts and more firings are in order. The harassment of right-wing groups seeking a tax exemption, however, does not rise to the level of Representative Michele Bachmann's accusation that Obama used the IRS to steal the election.
While the media focuses its attention on the IRS screwup, the most egregious of the scandals is the covert collection of phone records from the Associated Press. Now we're into Nixon territory, and should the Justice Department's national security concerns fail to persuade, then Eric Holder has got to go. I understand he was personally questioned in regards to the AP matter and has thus recused himself from the investigations. Holder claims his deputy ordered the harvesting of personal records from AP phone lines. There are other ways of obtaining information than breaking the law. The surreptitious collection of AP phone records could compromise the integrity of their sources and discourage whistleblowers from coming forth in the future.
Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt claimed the seizure of reporters' phone records was "unconstitutional" and said his organization is considering legal action against the Justice Department. I don't hold many allegiances, but my first is to journalism. I believe the trampling of the First Amendment right of a free press by the Justice Department deserves the resignation of the attorney general. Whether the AG is John Mitchell, Janet Reno, or Alberto Gonzales, when they skirt the law they were sworn to uphold, they become a drag on the presidency and a negative representation of his government.
I don't understand the Republicans. They claim to be the party of family values with a special emphasis on marriage and fidelity. This president is a wonderful father and role model, faithful to his wife, without a hint of scandal, and yet they hate him so much. The zeal with which the Republicans are attempting to prove that Obama was the Svengali that micromanaged every crisis reminds me of the GOP's inquisition of Bill Clinton. By portraying Clinton as Satan, the GOP managed to obfuscate his real transgressions and ultimately turn the tide of public opinion in his favor.
Recent polling indicates that Barack Obama's popularity has remained steady despite the shitstorm of conservative abuse. These "scandals" will consume Obama's presidency only because of political posturing by the Republicans, and ultimately they won't amount to much. These are merely the bumblings of bureaucratic zealots, but the poisonous wing of the Republican Party is already talking impeachment. It didn't have to be this way, but Obama's legislative agenda has been hijacked by a witches' brew of controversies. What a waste of talent.
Randy Haspel writes the "Born-Again Hippies" blog, where a version of this column first appeared.