Commentary

Deconstructing Barack Obama, Part III

Two days ago, I shared an insightful article from Kevin Williamson as we contemplated the President’s ideology.

Yesterday, we reviewed an article by Richard Epstein in hopes of deciphering Obama’s approach to economic policy.

Let’s conclude our series by looking at whether there’s something special about the scandals swirling around the White House.

Big government is the mother’s milk of corruption, so it would be foolish to expect any administration to have a perfectly clean record. So what we’re looking for is some indication as to whether President Obama is better or worse than average.

There’s definitely a lot of smoke. Here’s some of what Victor Davis Hanson wrote for National Review on “Obama’s Watergates.”

The truth about Benghazi, the Associated Press/James Rosen monitoring, the IRS corruption, the NSA octopus, and Fast and Furious is still not exactly known. Almost a year after the attacks on our Benghazi facilities, we are only now learning details ofCIA gun-running, military stand-down orders, aliases of those involved who are still hard to locate, massaged talking points, and the weird jailing of Nakoula Basseley Nakoula. We still do not quite know why Eric Holder’s Justice Department went after the Associated Press or Fox News’s James Rosen — given that members of the administration were themselves illegally leaking classified information about the Stuxnet virus, the Yemeni double agent, the drone program, and the bin Laden document trove.

But is there fire underneath all the smoke? Hanson obviously is rather suspicious.

Almost everything the administration has assured us about the IRS scandal has proven false: It was not confined to rogue Cincinnati agents; liberal and conservative groups were not equally targeted; and there were political appointees who were involved in or knew of the misdeeds. The NSA debacle can so far best be summed up by citing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has now confessed that he lied under oath (“clearly erroneous”) to the U.S. Congress. Even his earlier mea culpa of providing the “least untruthful” statement was an untruth.

Indeed, he suggest that the current administration is eerily reminiscent of the Nixon White House.

There is also nothing new in administration denials. Both President Obama and his press secretary, Jay Carney, characterized the Benghazi, IRS, AP, and NSA allegations as “phony.” So too Nixon’s press secretary, Ron Ziegler, characterized the Watergate break-in as “a third-rate burglary attempt” and insisted that “Certain elements may try to stretch the Watergate burglary beyond what it is.” In August 1972, when news of the break-in first got out, Nixon himself assured the nation, “I can say categorically that … no one in the White House staff, no one in this Administration, presently employed, was involved in this very bizarre incident.” The Obama administration’s variation on outright denial is “What difference, at this point, does it make?” And when Jay Carney declares, “I accept that ‘stylistic’ might not precisely describe a change of one word to another,” I am reminded of Ron Ziegler’s quip, “This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative.”

In some ways, Hanson argues, the current Administration is worse than Nixon.

Nixon tried to use the IRS to punish his enemies, although Lois Lerner and William Wilkins appear to have had far less integrity than did Nixon’s IRS chief, Johnnie Walters, who resisted rather than abetted Nixon’s illegal efforts. As in the case of doctoring CIA talking points and pressuring CIA operatives, so too Nixon tried to cloak misdeeds as “national security” operations. Nixon went after members of the press; Obama had the communications of James Rosen of Fox News — and even those of Rosen’s parents — monitored. Mr. Nakoula was the poor soul the authorities almost immediately jailed for his supposedly right-wing, Islamophobic film. He proved a sort of updated version of the caricatured crazy Cuban burglars and the unhinged Gordon Liddy, whose freelancing zeal allegedly caused the Watergate problem in the first place. The only difference is that the latter really did commit relevant illegal acts, while Nakoula’s videomaking was uncouth, not criminal — and irrelevant to the Benghazi deaths.

So where’s it all going to lead? Hanson thinks it will get worse.

I expect more participants in the Obama-administration misdeeds will invoke the Fifth, and the dodges will ultimately have little effect, other than to remind us that many in the administration have lots to hide. …Nixon left office with historic low poll numbers and the economy a wreck. …So too already with the unraveling of Obama. …Because something terribly wrong occurred in Benghazi, with the IRS, with the treatment of the Associated Press and James Rosen, and perhaps with Edward Snowden and the NSA, and those involved are seeking to mask their culpability, the scandals grind on. They will not end until the truth sets us all free. So expect a long-drawn-out and sordid saga.

I agree that there will be more scandals, as well as more news from existing scandals, but I’m not sure any of this suggests Obama is any worse than other Presidents. Or that his appointees are any worse than the appointees of previous Presidents.

I’m not trying to defend the White House. Obamacare is an example of a law that was only made possible because of bribery, and now the Administration is in the process of arbitrarily and illegally rewriting its own signature legislation!

And let’s not forget boondoggles such as Solyndra, where lots of money conveniently wound up in the pockets of Obama donors.

But is there any reason to think that these examples of corruption are worse than TARP? Or some of the other ways that Republicans get in bed with big government and special interests?

In other words, I think the problem is Washington, not any particular politician or political party.

That being said, I reserve the right to change my mind if evidence comes to light that the White House was directing/ordering/approving the illegal partisan activities of officials at the IRS, FEC, and elsewhere.

P.S. If you enjoy the writing of Victor Davis Hanson and you’re not suffering from high blood pressure, read what he wrote about the squalid waste at the Department of Agriculture.

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.