What is it about presidents and second terms that so often find them mired in scandals? The combination of hubris that takes root upon being re-elected to the most powerful position in the world, and the frustration that grows with the realization that the most powerful position in the world is still not sufficient to achieve one’s objectives, leads presidents to take risks, violate norms of conduct, and lie with impunity. And when the media begin to swirl around the presidency like vultures and the fawning stops, the cavalcade of scandals begins.
The only thing standing in the way of Barack Obama receiving the full Nixon treatment is the absence of a John Dean. Richard Nixon was sunk not only by a partisan Congress (Obama is fortunate that Democrats control the Senate) but by revelations that came out of his own White House. But Nixon was never particularly close to his staff. Obama’s inner circle is wound so tightly that it is hard to imagine a John Dean emerging, confessing misconduct and telling tales. But the scandals that are tarnishing the Obama administration will not fade anytime soon.
Two of the scandals – the Benghazi cover-up and the IRS persecution of conservative groups – were directly tied to Obama’s re-election efforts, just as the Watergate excesses largely grew out of Nixon ‘s Committee to Re-Elect the President (dubbed, for some reason by them, CREEP). Is there is person who believes that the Benghazi lies – attributing a terrorist attack on US sovereign territory (the consulate) that murdered four Americans, including the US ambassador, to a You Tube video made in California rather than to Al-Qaeda offshoots – did not originate in the White House?
It is now crystal clear that the survivors on site immediately reported the terrorist attack – as did the Libyan government – and no one with any knowledge of the event thought about or even mentioned an internet parody of Muhammad. And yet, Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice were alternately weeks after the incident still hinting or declaring that the fault lay not with terrorists but with, in George Will’s words, “excessively boisterous movie critics.” Obama himself raised this issue at the UN about ten days after the attack. Of course, a terrorist attack would undermine the Obama narrative that Islamic terror was a thing of the past, put to eternal rest by the slaying of Osama bin Laden. Think again. (Hillary got her pay back from Obama for peddling this lie past the election – the joint TV interview with the President in which he ceremonially passed the torch to her before she disappeared to avoid having to answer questions.)
Clinton’s role in this will not end that quickly either and this fiasco will stick to her mediocre resume. The assumption of “full responsibility” without saying for what, about what or the acknowledgment of any mistakes will be juxtaposed to her exclamation “what difference does it make?” when, to all reasonable people, finding out the causes of a terrorist attack helps identify perpetrators, engenders an evaluation of possible missteps, and work to prevent a future recurrence. That seems to be quite a difference.
The attempt by the White House to deflect questions at first because the incident was still being investigated, and most recently because the incident happened “so long ago,” is facile to the point of silliness. It is a great way to lose credibility and enrage serious journalists.
The IRS scandal is also typical. Is there a person who believes that the directive to the IRS to investigate conservative groups – and Romney donors – did not originate in the White House? Why would low level IRS staffers on their own harass only political groups associated primarily with one side of the American divide? It strains credulity to think that orders from some White House official were not filtered through the system, with deniability for all, until the right operative received his/her instructions. For sure, the President can feign outrage – but these officials are part of the Executive Branch of government, working at his behest and doing his bidding.
Is there a “John Dean” in this White House – a person with a quasi-conscience who will name names and inform the public what the president knew and when he knew it? Bear in mind – I only learned this last week for the first time – the Nixon Enemies’ List was formulated by Dean and Charles Colson, with no direct input from Nixon. It is arguable whether or not Nixon even knew who was on the list. But Nixon was sunk because someone on the inside talked, and because an enthusiastic and partisan Congress delighted in his downfall. It is no rationalization to note that whatever Nixon did was done by other presidents before him. FDR was the first to use the IRS against political opponents, and Kennedy and Johnson did as well, in addition to using the FBI and CIA in a series of illegal acts. They all engendered loyalty in their subordinates, as did Nixon in some of his but clearly not in all of his.
All it takes is for one person to talk – and then to have one indictment, trial, conviction or even plea bargain for more names to be revealed. The yarn then unravels fairly quickly.
If anything will prompt a lone voice to come forward it will be an aggressive reporter, angered by the seizure of the phone records of the AP reporters by Justice officials looking for a national security leak, who cultivates and coaxes a source into talking.
In the meantime, it is worth noting that Bush II, for all his troubles in his second term, never had such ethical missteps attributed to his White House, and the Bush years were in fact a respite between two scandal-ridden Democratic administrations. It also bears mention that Obama has chosen the classic Nixonian circle-the-wagons approach to crisis control. As the beat goes on, and the timeline slowly reveals that Obama knew earlier and earlier about the truth of Benghazi and the existence of IRS persecution, his presidency will become shakier and shakier.
The traditional second term curse has come early for President Obama. He might even need a new crisis to deflect public attention from his troubles. Syria, perhaps?
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