“The Media Has Cast Its Traditional Role Aside”: Washington Circus Steals The Spotlight From Where It Belongs
Can President Barack Obama put out the brush fires that are sucking the air out of his second-term agenda? Can he stop the spread of mini-scandals that are consuming Washington?
No, he cannot. The president could (unconstitutionally) shutter every Internal Revenue Service office and fire every staffer, from top-ranking executives to lowly administrative aides, and it would hardly matter. Republicans would simply change the terms of the debate and impeach him for destroying the 16th Amendment.
Official Washington is now all spectacle, all circus, all manufactured outrage abetted by a press corps addicted to controversy. Actual policies are slighted while political posturing takes the stage; simmering problems are ignored while canned contretemps and stale theater consume all the attention. That has been true for years now, but it just keeps getting worse.
There are serious failings at the heart of each of the sideshows currently consuming officialdom. The most egregious concerns the IRS, where bureaucrats singled out conservative groups for a vetting that veered into political harassment. That not only violates deep-rooted ideals of fairness and justice, but it also contravenes federal law. It raises the specter of the sort of political harassment carried out by Richard Nixon, who wielded the IRS as a bludgeon against his political adversaries, and by J. Edgar Hoover, who ordered tax audits of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
While IRS-gate reflects poorly on Obama’s leadership, there is not a scintilla of evidence that he had anything to do with it. Further, the president has responded with aplomb: He has forced the resignation of the acting head of the agency as the FBI launches a criminal investigation. (That’s about all the administration can do since federal rules insulate IRS bureaucrats from elected officials, all in an effort to prevent scandals such as those mentioned above.)
If Republicans doubt the president’s ability to impartially oversee an investigation of his own administration, they might appoint a special prosecutor. Instead, they have promised more hearings on Capitol Hill — more partisan spectacle, more canned outrage, more useless theater.
Though the national press corps sticks to its unwritten rule of blaming Democrats and Republicans equally for the mess our national politics have become, the facts show that responsibility cannot be equally apportioned. Democrats don’t eschew partisan mudslinging, but they are not very good at it. The GOP, by contrast, has raised it to an art form.
Take a look at the last two presidential administrations. Though Bill Clinton reigned over an era of peace, prosperity and a balanced budget, the GOP impeached him on charges that grew out of an adulterous affair. George W. Bush took the country to war on the wings of a lie, tortured detainees and wrecked the budget. Democrats pointed fingers and conducted investigations, but they did not impeach him.
The news media, meanwhile, breathlessly report every email, every accusation, every pointed finger. They parse political winners and losers. Will the Benghazi hearings damage Hillary Clinton’s chances for the presidency in 2016? Will the IRS controversy hurt immigration reform? Will the controversies heal Republicans’ internal divisions?
As much as it troubles me to say so, Washington journalists have cast aside their traditional roles as trumpets of a substantive truth. They rarely uncover genuine abuses of power, cast a skeptical eye on untoward developments (such as the warmongering that led to the invasion of Iraq) or even explain the nuances of policy. Heck, they barely bother to inform the public when yesterday’s huge scandal becomes suddenly less, well, scandalous.
Take the budget deficits. Wasn’t it just two months ago that Republicans were insisting that the Obama administration was sending the entire nation to the poorhouse? What happened to those deficits?
As it turns out, they are shrinking, just as many mainstream economists had predicted. As the economy recovers, the federal government pays out less in assistance and takes in more in taxes.
You haven’t heard a lot of chatter about that or about the people hurt by the continuing cuts that were supposedly made necessary by that looming deficit. Many struggling Americans are finding their childcare options limited, their community clinics closed, their assistance for housing and meals shrinking — with little notice from official Washington. That’s the real scandal.
By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, May 18, 2013
“Why Scandal Politics Don’t Work”: Perhaps Republicans Should Focus On A More Effective Use Of Their Time
A president’s critics can’t help themselves when the whiff of scandal is in the air. Yet more often than not, the obsessive pursuit of scandal fails to lift the political prospects of the opposition party.
Republicans might want to pause and ask themselves: Is flogging Benghazi, the IRS, and the Associated Press really the best way to get the majority back?
Every party on the outside of the White House envisions replicating Watergate — forcing a president out of office and riding the aftermath to an Election Day triumph. But the post-Watergate scandal-mongering record falls far short of that holy political grail.
The Iran-Contra affair may be a blot on the Reagan record, but it didn’t propel Democratic Gov. Michael Dukakis into the White House. During his convention speech, he tried to tar then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush for “sit[ting] silently by when somebody at the National Security Council comes up with the cockamamie idea that we should trade arms to the Ayatollah for hostages.” A few days later, Dukakis also tried to make hay with a less-remembered scandal involving fraudulent procurement in the Pentagon. “A fish rots from the head first,” said Dukakis, in some of his harshest words of the campaign. His emphasis on ethics were soon drowned out with a barrage of attacks regarding his views on national security and crime.
Ten years later, with Bill Clinton in the Oval Office, Republicans took scandal-mongering to new heights. Charging the president with perjury and obstruction of justice to cover up his extramarital affair, the House Judiciary Committee advanced articles of impeachment one month before the 1998 congressional midterm elections. The opposition party historically gains seats at the “six-year itch” point of a president’s tenure. But the backlash from the impeachment obsession allowed Democrats to pick up five House seats. Speaker Newt Gingrich was compelled to quit Congress. House Republicans barreled ahead and formally impeached Clinton anyway. Clinton’s approval rating then spiked above 70 percent.
During George W. Bush’s first term, Democrats sought to drive outrage surrounding the Abu Gharib torture scandal and, to a lesser extent, the outing of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame. Michael Moore sought to spark a scandal with his documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which characterized Bush’s foreign policy and energy policy as flowing from a scandalous relationship with Saudi Arabia. John Kerry’s acceptance speech, delivered one month after the movie was released, called for “an America that relies on its ingenuity and innovation, not the Saudi royal family.” A well-financed independent group, The Media Fund, aired a series of ads criticizing Bush’s Saudi ties. Bush ended up winning the popular vote (unlike 2000).
As for President Obama — the conservative cries of “Solyndra” and “Fast and Furious” failed to interrupt his march to a second term.
Why do scandal politics usually fail? Of course, some scandals fizzle out because the charges lack merit or import. But as you see above, even more significant scandals can lack political punch. Perhaps that is because by attempting to quickly topple the president and short-cut a path the White House, the attackers end up distracting themselves from their own primary mission: discrediting the president’s ideology and substantive agenda in the eyes of the public, and elevating their own.
A more plausible objective, short of impeachment or electoral gains, would be to consume a White House with scandal management and distract the administration from executing the president’s agenda. But for today’s Republicans, that objective doesn’t make much sense. Obama’s main legislative goal this year is shared by leading Republicans: immigration reform.
In fact, pro-immigration Republicans may be stoking the fires about Benghazi, the IRS and the AP not to distract the president, but to distract fellow conservatives who otherwise would rally the Tea Party base to pressure Congress and undermine the bipartisan Senate bill. As the Daily Caller’s Mickey Kaus told BuzzFeed: “I think these distracting scandals actually help its chances of passing. Every time [the bill] is at center stage, its chances of passing go down.”
And note that some of Obama’s chief antagonists on Benghazi — Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham — are also Obama’s key shepherds of immigration reform.
For those conservatives more deeply opposed to President Obama’s agenda, they should ask themselves: Do we really think any of these “scandals” seriously threaten President Obama’s hold on the Oval Office? And if they don’t, might there be a better use of our time?
By: Bill Scher, The Week, May 16, 2013
We’ve heard quite a bit recently from Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and Michael Mukasey, so I suppose it stands to reason that it’s time for Alberto Gonzales to reemerge, too.
The former attorney general has been wise to keep a low profile. In office, he was a national laughingstock. Upon Gonzales’ departure, Andrew Cohen wrote a terrific piece explaining, “By any reasonable standard, the Gonzales Era at the Justice Department is void of almost all redemptive qualities.” He sought a legal job in D.C. but couldn’t find a firm that would hire him, and the last I heard, Gonzales ended up teaching at an unaccredited law school.
The former A.G. nevertheless appeared on MSNBC this morning, apparently ready to address some of the ongoing controversies. He seemed inclined to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt when it came to subpoenaing Associated Press phone logs, but this nevertheless stood out for me.
Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recalled on Wednesday a time when he was confronted with a “very serious leak investigation” similar to the one that has embroiled the Obama administration this week. But, he said, he went a very different route and decided against subpoenaing a reporter’s notes.
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the seizure of Associated Press phone records, saying the Department of Justice was trying to get to the bottom of a “very serious leak” that “put American people at risk.” Gonzales, who oversaw a massive domestic wiretapping program under former President George W. Bush, acknowledged on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that the attorney general is often forced to “make a very hard determination” but when faced with a similar dilemma, his Justice Department “ultimately decided not to move forward.”
Now, I can’t be sure which case Gonzales is referring to, but for the record, let’s not forget that during his tenure as attorney general, the Justice Department “improperly gained access to reporters’ calling records as part of leak investigations.” Indeed, it happened quite a bit.
Unlike the current uproar, we didn’t hear much about this at the time, but if Gonzales wants to give the impression now that his DOJ showed greater restraint when it came to journalists and phone logs, he’s mistaken.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 15, 2013
The conservative blogosphere is all-atwitter this afternoon over the revelation that the Internal Revenue Service targeted various Tea Party groups in the days leading up to the presidential election of 2012.
Sadly for the critics of the president, things are not always as they initially appear to be and the effort to paint the improper IRS activity as a White House directed political dirty trick is unlikely to gain the traction opponents would like to see catch fire.
Keep in mind that the kerfuffle does not involve the targeting of groups for audits seeking evidence of a failure to pay taxes. Rather, the problem involved the IRS’s review of applications filed by the various entities seeking tax-exempt status under the law.
At the time in question, many newly formed political organizations were seeking IRS certification that would allow them to avoid paying taxes on funds raised—the overwhelming majority of these organizations being Tea Party related groups. As the IRS believed that many of those filing for exemptions were stretching the limits of qualification, some low-level staffers at the agency’s Cincinnati, Ohio office decided to target for closer review those organizations with “Tea Party” sounding names, such as “patriot” and, of course, “Tea Party”. In the effort to dig deeper to determine if these groups qualified, the agency people involved asked many of the filing organizations to disclose names of those who had made contributions along with other data they deemed necessary to determine if the group qualified for tax free status.
The problem is that the agents involved were not randomly conducting these checks on all the political organizations seeking tax free status and were specifically targeting the Tea Party related groups.
This was, clearly, improper activity which is why the IRS issued today’s apology.
What’s that you say? You still don’t believe that the White House was not involved in this?
That’s what I thought.
Maybe then, it will interest you to know that there are only two officials at the IRS that are political appointments—the commissioner (who is the boss) and the chief legal counsel. And while you may be thinking that it would be a piece of cake for the White House to place a call to the Commissioner and nudge him into putting a little heat on Tea Party groups so that they would be kept busy defending themselves from government annoyance rather than putting their energies into defeating the President, it would not have been quite so simple a task for the White House to accomplish.
Because the Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service during the period in question was Douglas Shulman, a political appointee of President George W. Bush.
In fact, not only was Commissioner Shulman a Bush appointee, he would certainly have had no motivation to do the political bidding of a Democrat president considering that Mr. Shulman had already announced prior to the election that he would be stepping down from his post in November.
If you imagine that the President’s staff had the ability to go around the top political appointee at the IRS and attempt to influence the civil servants who work at the agency, consider how many levels of civil servants the White House staff would have had to persuade to do their bidding given that those who pursued the policy were well down the totem-pole of seniority, working away at the Cincinnati office.
Indeed, to suggest that the White House could get career civil servants to do its political dirty work would truly defy the laws of political reality.
If you doubt this—and you are someone who believes that the State Department behaved improperly in the Benghazi matter—consider the inability of State to direct the three highly placed State Department civil servants who testified before Congress this week to do as the politicians asked. This should give you some indication as to just how impossible it is for elected or politically appointment officials to get government civil servants to participate in their political schemes—let alone keep it all a secret heading into a presidential election.
Of course, all the obvious and logical explanations in the world for what really happened here will prove insufficient when it comes to persuading some Tea Party groups that this was not the work of the White House.
As proof of what we can expect, check out what Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin had to say when calling for President Obama to personally apologize—
“It is suspicious that the activity of these ‘low-level workers’ was unknown to IRS leadership at the time it occurred. President Obama must also apologize for his administration ignoring repeated complaints by these broad grassroots organizations of harassment by the IRS in 2012, and make concrete and transparent steps today to ensure this never happens again.”
Clearly, Ms. Martin has very little grasp on how widespread the activities of the IRS are if she imagines that, in the big picture, the relatively small number of reviews of Tea Party related applications in the Cincinnati office was going to somehow capture the attention of the IRS Commissioner…who happens to be a Republican appointee.
One wonders if Ms. Martin’s indignation has anything to do with the fact that she and her husband were indebted to the IRS in the amount of over half a million dollars when they filed bankruptcy in 2008? Maybe it is Ms. Martin who owes the apology?
Still, the opportunity to make some political hay over the error will likely prove irresistible to the GOP.
So, let the Congressional hearings commence! I can’t wait to see Darrell Issa’s movie-style poster hyping these hearings as he did in this one posted to his Twitter site to get us jazzed about his Benghazi hearings—http://b-i.forbesimg.com/rickungar/files/2013/05/issamay6.jpg
Maybe this time he’ll spring for full-color art
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 10, 2013
Dick Cheney won’t let a little thing like the absence of credibility stand in the way of cheap shots, as he hopes to exploit the deaths of Americans abroad for partisan gain.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized the Obama administration on Tuesday for its handling of the September 11, 2012 terror attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, calling it ‘a failure of leadership.’ Cheney said U.S. leaders should have been better prepared for violence on the anniversary of the al-Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001.
‘They should have been ready before anything ever happened,’ Cheney told MailOnline exclusively during a party in Georgetown celebrating the launch of a new book by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. ‘I mean, it’s North Africa – Libya, where they’ve already had major problems,’ Cheney said.
Actually, “North Africa” is a pretty big place, as Cheney may recall. To say the Obama administration, the U.S. military, and all U.S. diplomatic outposts in the region “should have been ready” is easy for a failed former official to say from his Beltway home, but in practice, it’s a little more complex. Indeed, we’re talking about Benghazi, Libya, where support for the U.S. is strong and we were arguably less likely to face a violent attack.
But this was the part of Cheney’s harangue that struck me as especially noteworthy.
‘When we were there, on our watch, we were always ready on 9/11, on the anniversary,’ he recalled.
Yes, “on the anniversary” is an instant Cheney classic, because on their watch, they certainly weren’t ready “on 9/11″ itself.
George W. Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.
“On the anniversary,” however, Cheney wants us to know they were ready, presumably everywhere, for everything.
Honestly, isn’t it about time this guy enjoyed a little quiet time?
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 8, 2013