So, President Obama’s second term in office is off to a booming start, I’d say. An encouraging jobs report. An economy that continues to recover. One foreign military commitment essentially over and another winding down. It’s true that two second-term legislative priorities, gun control and an immigration bill are stalled in Congress, but certainly progress has been made on both fronts. Everything’s looking tea and crumpets for this President. Tickety boo. Copasetic.
I am, of course, kidding. We’re in the middle of the worst week of the Obama presidency, and it’s only Wednesday. On Sunday, more shocking revelations on Benghazi. The fabled ‘talking points,’ turns out, were not simply produced by the ‘intelligence community.’ Someone in the White House tinkered with them, softened words like ‘terrorist’ into words like ‘extremist.’ This was absolute red meat for conservatives, who have been insisting all along that the Benghazi ‘cover-up’ was initiated in the White House. Then, turns out, the IRS (everyone’s favorite government agency) had been targeting conservative groups, giving special scrutiny to their 501 (c) (4) applications. Also, Monday, we learn that the Justice Department had secretly obtained two months worth of phone records for Associated Press reporters and editors. Finally, the President is hosting British Prime Minister David Cameron, a man who is currently less popular in Britain then President Obama is in Provo.
Second terms are tough. Nixon’s second term was destroyed by Watergate, Clinton’s by impeachment. Reagan’s second term was defined by the Iran Contra affair, while George W. Bush’s saw the complete meltdown on the world economy. Grover Cleveland’s second term saw the Panic of ’93, while even George Washington’s second term was marred by the massively unpopular Jay treaty. So here we go, right on schedule, the sounds of Beyonce’s lip-synced national anthem barely fading. Scandal and disgrace. (In fact, isn’t that where it all went wrong? Isn’t this really Beyonce’s fault?)
So let’s take a look, in descending order of importance, the big three scandals of this week, in reverse order of how we learned about them. For starters, the AP phone number thing.
This link takes you to AP’s story on the scandal. How’s that for irony? But folks, this is serious stuff. The Justice Department has stone-walled the press on this, which is both entirely predictable and completely the wrong thing to do. That’s the first law of scandals–get your story out there first. Be the one to break it. Take control of the narrative. And that’s exactly and precisely what Justice has failed to do.
Bottom line: the federal government may not conduct special surveillance on news reporters doing their job. It was wrong when Nixon went after the Washington Post during Watergate, and it’s wrong now. It violates the spirit and letter of the first and fourth amendments. Whoever in Justice authorized this needs to be fired, immediately and without hesitation. I also think Attorney General Eric Holder needs to resign or be fired, whether or not he approved it or even knew about it. Even if he learned of this the way the rest of us did, by watching the news, he’s clearly guilty of having mismanaged the Justice Department, if subordinates could possibly consider this a good idea. And if President Obama knew about it or approved it, this is an impeachable offense. I like this President, I voted for him and I supported his re-election financially. But you don’t spy on reporters.
We don’t know what this was about, but anything this colossally stupid and wrong-headed and fundamentally unconstitutional has to have originated with the War on Terror. The AP story I linked to above speculated that “the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot,” and speculates that this probe may be related to that investigation. That makes sense to me. I don’t doubt that Justice would very much like to know AP’s sources for that leak and that story. But they don’t get to bug reporters’ phones.
So that’s the big one; the major story of this week. And I’m glad that it came out. Way too much of the War on Terror operates in what can only be called legal and constitutional gray areas. President Obama knows this; hence his obvious discomfort with the detention of terror suspects at Guantanamo. The President knows perfectly well that the United States can’t legally or constitutionally hold detainees there forever. He wants to close the base–has said so many times. But he hasn’t actually closed it, mostly because, I suspect, he doesn’t have the faintest idea what to do with the detainees. Just letting them go seems, uh, irresponsible. So charge them with something and try them criminally? That’s probably the right answer, but what evidence, by now, hasn’t been corrupted?
So it’s an awful mess. And of course, Presidents must feel tremendous pressure to do something, to keep Americans safe. But the way to defeat terrorism isn’t to kill or capture all possible terrorists. That’s a Sisyphean impossibility. The way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. The way to defeat terrorism is with a little David Ortiz. Props, Papi. F yeah.
Above all, we cannot abandon our deepest and truest values, and especially those enshrined in the Bill of Rights. I’m a liberal and a Democrat, and I voted for President Obama, and I desperately hope this scandal doesn’t go that high, to the White House. If it does, he needs to go. So this scandal really is genuinely a big deal, far and away the most troubling of the big three that broke this week.
Okay, second scandal, the IRS targeting conservative groups applying for 501 (c) (4) status. I read about this scandal with a comfortingly familiar sense of deja vu. It was comfortingly familiar. Used to be Greenpeace and the ACLU that got this kind of attention. Now it’s groups with ‘Tea Party’ in their name.
Look, I don’t think political advocacy groups should be eligible for 501 (c) (4) status at all. ‘Social welfare’ organizations are eligible, but ‘political advocacy groups’ are not. It reminds me of when I was a student at BYU, and the Honor code prohibited girls from wearing ‘jeans’ but allowed them to wear ‘denim slacks.’ The line is so nebulous, IRS decisions are always going to be seem arbitrary. Apparently, the problem at the IRS is that inadequately supervised employees decided to give special scrutiny to groups with ‘tea party’ or ‘patriot’ in their title, but not groups with ‘progressive’ or ‘progress.’ This story points out that the IRS wasn’t particularly consistent even there, but yeah, they approved groups like Progress Florida, but applications from groups like T.E.A. (Taxed Enough Already) languished.
I would say that the IRS commissioner should be fired over this, but there isn’t one–the Republicans in the Senate have filibustered a vote on the President’s nominee for the job. Love that irony. Meanwhile, yeah, this is inappropriate. There should be an investigation, and probably someone at the IRS should lose his/her job. I would suggest that Congress revisit 501 (c) (4) guidelines. But this Congress? Anyone have any confidence that they’d not just make things worse?
Finally, Benghazi. Yes, it looks like someone in the White House altered the talking points Susan Rice used when she appeared on Sunday talk shows after the Benghazi attacks. As a result. . . . viewers of those shows were slightly (emphasis on slightly) less informed for a few days than they might have been otherwise. Stripped of all the usual conservative argle-bargle, this remains a non-scandal. It is, predictably, the one Fox News has focused on the most.