Monday, June 3, 2013

Why This Scandal Is Different

The Obama administration is finding itself simultaneously embroiled in three separate scandals, each of which reflects, in different ways, very badly on the administration.

The Benghazi scandal, for instance, is actually three distinct sub-scandals. First was the refusal to grant the diplomats in Libya the extra security they requested. Then was the failure to at least try to rescue those diplomats when they came under attack. These two sub-scandals probably don't involve anything illegal, but they certainly reveal gross incompetence and/or a callous indifference to the peril of American personnel. The third aspect of the Benghazi imbroglio was the attempt to cover-up this incompetence and indifference by deliberately lying to the American people about exactly what precipitated the attack that took the lives of four Americans.

Lying to the American people is not illegal either, but lying under oath to Congress is. In any case, this administration has shown itself to be unworthy of the public's confidence that they know what they're doing and unworthy of the public's trust that they'll be honest with them.

The second scandal involved the Department of Justice seizing the phone records of journalists in order to spy on them. This was done ostensibly to ferret out leaks in the Department, but it is a chilling abuse of power and a flouting of the first amendment of the Constitution by a government agency which has already shown itself to hold the law in disdain in the Fast and Furious debacle.

Moreover, since Attorney General Eric Holder patently lied to Congress while under oath, claiming he knew nothing of these seizures when, in fact, he had signed off on at least some of them, makes him guilty of perjury.

Both of these aforementioned scandals are bad and would have been enough to have the media baying at the gates of a Republican White House demanding the impeachment of a Republican president who presided over them, but the third scandal is, as Peggy Noonan asserts, doubtless the worst.

The Internal Revenue Service used its enormous power to harass, intimidate, and suppress conservative individuals and grass roots organizations in order to punish them and to essentially cripple their efforts to educate the public about the issues confronting the nation in the 2012 election. The media and the Democrats were incensed that conservatives supported voter ID laws that would cut down on the number of people casting illegitimate ballots because, the left claimed, this was a subtle effort to suppress the vote. That objection was nonsense, but the IRS was engaged in an undeniable effort to suppress the vote prior to the 2012 election and the outrage on the left has been muted. Some liberals have even given their approval to what the IRS did.

But what makes this scandal worse than the others? Here's Noonan's thought:
Sometimes when you’re writing part of a column you keep getting close to the meaning of what you want to say but you don’t quite get there, the full formulation of the idea eludes you. Then two days later, relaxing in conversation with friends, the thought comes to you whole, and you think: That’s what I meant to say. That’s what I was trying to get.

This week I had one of those moments. I kept trying, the paragraph kept not quite working, the deadline came.

I got an email last night that had the effect of a clarifying conversation. It was from a smart friend who works in government. He understood the point I was trying to make about how the current IRS scandal is different from previous ones and more threatening to the American arrangement. I had written that this scandal isn’t a discrete event in which a president picks up a phone and tells someone in the White House to look into the finances of some steel industry executives, or to check out the returns of some guy on an enemies list.

But my friend got to the essence. He wrote, “The left likes to say, ‘Watergate was worse!’ Watergate was bad—don’t get me wrong. But it was elites using the machinery of government to spy on elites. . . . It’s something quite different when elites use the machinery of government against ordinary people. It’s a whole different ball game.”

It is.

That’s exactly what I meant.

In previous IRS scandals it was the powerful abusing the powerful—a White House moving against prominent financial or journalistic figures who, because of their own particular status or the machineries at their disposal, could pretty much take care of themselves. A scandal erupts, there are headlines, and then people go on their way. The dreadful thing about this scandal, what makes it ominous, is that this is the elites versus regular citizens. It’s the mighty versus normal people. It’s the all-powerful directors of the administrative state training their eyes and moving on uppity and relatively undefended Americans.

That’s what makes this scandal different, and why if it’s not stopped now it will never stop. Because every four years you can get yourself a new president and a new White House, but you won’t easily get yourself a whole new administrative state. It’s there, it’s not going away, not anytime soon. If it isn’t forced back into its cage now, and definitively, it will prowl the land hungrily forever.
Noonan says more in her column at the link.

Even though any two of the three scandals above, especially following on the heels of Fast and Furious, would be enough to topple a Republican administration, I doubt that that'll happen in this case. Attorney General Holder may resign, but I doubt anyone high up in the administration will be impeached or go to jail, although both should happen. I certainly don't think it likely that President Obama will be impeached, although were he a white Republican and the Democrats were in control of Congress he surely would be, and deservedly so.

Perhaps it's enough that the American public learn that when you vote for leftist progressives whose only ethical principle is Machiavellian pragmatism what you wind up with is incompetence, corruption and tyranny. If enough voters learn that lesson, if enough voters are moved from their indolence to pay attention henceforth to what this administration has done and is trying to do to this country, perhaps that will be the silver lining in all of this.