It says something about the nature of our times and of politics that the one policy of Obama’s that should be getting the greatest scrutiny and flack is his increasingly proliferate use of drones in the “War on Terror”.
It also says something about the nature of our times and of politics that the next policy that really deserves a great deal more attention is the trims and cuts and shortcuts around our liberties done in the name of security from terrorists. Obama is not as bad as Bush on this, but they still occur. And there is still too much secrecy involved.
Yet while these have indeed been mentioned and Obama’s feet held to a wet match on these issues, the ones that have gotten the press today and that are generating the most heat today are nothing more than an example of a very small fire generating huge amounts of political smoke – mostly on the conservative side of the fence since they see these as the “gotcha’ to get the President.
Let me take the two current incidents and explain why there is more smoke than fire.
You would think that with the death of four of our people, including our ambassador to Libya, this attack would be the focus of the current hearings. However, it is not. Instead our politicians are dwelling on how the administration initially reported these attacks.
I have seen very, very little new information presented. And to me, this has the appearance of political fighting between two different government organizations rather than a White House cover up.
However, disregard this possibility, disregard the possibility that it was the result of confusion and information fog; instead let us pretend that the White House really did change the talking points with the intent to deceive Congress and the public. Obama’s administration should get slapped for it, and, given that they have already been slapped for their sloppy handling of this reporting, this has already occurred. To continue to do so is redundant and serves no purpose other than purely partisan politics.
No laws were broken. No people died as a result of this. No money was lost due to this. All of the actions causing this have been investigated, responsibility assigned, and actions taken. All of the most important items have been taken care of and are not in question right now. Instead, now it is about the most unimportant issue of all of the Benghazi issues. And it is being given a semblance of importance only through positing a worst case scenario and doing a chicken little dance. It is a 1% substance and 99% political smoke issue.
Now, this one has much more meat to it. It is a real and important issue. In fact, if President Obama is linked to this, if he gave the order or hinted that the IRS should go over the Tea Party groups then I think a discussion about possible impeachment is in order.
But man o man, the Republicans and conservatives are off and riding this for all its worth. However they seem to have forgotten to bring along the horse to ride on. President Obama has not been linked to this; there is not a hint of such a linkage at this time. To me, it seems to be a bit premature to talk about impeaching Obama when there has been no evidence whatsoever showing him responsible for the IRS issue.
I keep hearing that this is worse than Watergate or just like Watergate. Usually they reference the fact that one of the proposed articles of impeachment against Nixon was that he used the IRS to attack his political opponents and enemies. However, that was only one of a total of 14 different charges. Obama has yet to fall as low as Nixon. Not even close. Especially since he has not been linked.
From what I know right now, the biggest issue is not that they put these conservative groups through the wringer, but that they did not do the same to the liberal groups. Given the changes in 2010 to groups and campaign donations, increased scrutiny was definitely warranted. Given that conservatives were the largest block taking advantage of this, investigating them is also warranted. What was not warranted, and for which the IRS should be and is getting blasted, is that they did not scrutinize the liberal groups the same way.
Now, just for fun, let me point out that every one of the conservative and Tea Party groups that were put under the microscope did get their tax exemption. Not even one of them were denied it.
Just for a bit more fun, I thought I would take a moment to go through some scandals involving the administrations of previous Presidents followed by ones involving the IRS. In regards to Presidents I am not going to go over scandals involving their appointments. Every president has had them. Instead I am looking at policy scandals.
President W. Bush
- No weapons of mass destruction,
- Iraq did not support the terrorist group responsible for 9/11,
- “Lawyergate’: the dismissal of lawyers who were prosecuting Republicans instead of Democrats; during Congressional Hearings several senior Justice Department Officials refused to testify citing executive privilege and then resigned.
- White House e mail – The Bush administration used the web servers of the Republican National Committee to send out millions of e mails which were then deleted and destroyed, probably in violation of both the Presidential Records Act and the Hatch Act. Over 80 officials made use of these servers, including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove. Of these officials, e mails from 51 could not be found again. Congressional investigations of other scandals requested millions of e mails that no longer existed.
- Plame affair in which the name of a CIA operative was leaked for political reasons.
- The administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Thomas Scully, withheld information from Congress about the projected cost of the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act. He threatened to fire Medicare’s chief actuary if he provided the information to Congress.
- NSA warrantless surveillance – President Bush implemented a program to listen in to domestic phone conversations by American citizens without getting a warrant through the FISA court.
- Many more can be listed, but I still have several other Presidents to get to.
- Monica Lewinsky – was impeached for perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying under oath. He was acquitted by the Senate but cited for contempt of court. Clinton had his license to practice law in Arkansas suspended for five years and was barred from practicing law before the Supreme Court.
President H. W. Bush
- During his election campaign repeatedly denied knowing anything about Iran Contra. However his dairy of that time stated that he was the only one who fully knew the details. He refused to disclose this to investigators.
- After being elected Bush pardoned to the five convicted government officials and also Casper Weinberger, whose trial had not yet begun. By doing so he shut down the ongoing Iran Contra investigation.
President Ronald Reagan
- Iran Contra: A plan to sell missiles to Iran in return for them releasing the hostages. The money would then be used to fund the Contra rebels in their attempt to bring down the Nicaraguan government, something expressly forbidden by the Boland Amendment. Reagan initially went on TV and declared that there was no “arms for hostages” deal. He later had to go on TV and admit that there was.
- Sewergate: funds from the EPA were selectively used for projects to benefit politicians favorable to Reagan’s administration.
- Inslaw affair: top officials of Reagan’s Justice Department were involved in software piracy from Islaw Inc, forcing it into bankruptcy. Both Attorney General Edwin Meese and his successor Dick Thornburgh were found to have blocked the investigation into this issue. Their successor as Attorney General also refused to investigate.
President Jimmy Carter
- How nice, no policy scandals.
President Gerald Ford
- Nixon Pardon; prevented Nixon from being tried by Congress and impeached.
- Watergate: there were others, but enough said.
President Lyndon Johnson, President John Kennedy, President Dwight Eisenhower
- No major policy scandals.
And let me end the President section here, on a happy note.
At first it seems as if more and more scandals are happening today. However, despite appearances, I do not think that most modern politicians are any less ethical than their predecessors. Instead of the nature of the men who are elected as President having changed, it is our culture, society and government that have changed.
I believe that the political fighting between the two parties has become more intense and vicious, that our modern media is both more pervasive in our society and is not as inclined to hide and overlook issues, and that our modern government is larger, more complex, and involved in more aspects of society and the world than it once was. It is these changes that have led to an increase in policy scandals. I will say that looking through things, scandals involving political appointments seem to be consistently high regardless of era and time. I guess this just shows that a good man is always hard to find.
This will not be a long look, but instead more of a quick breeze through, as this blog is getting longer than what I had intended…. again. In fact, let me just provide a link to a Time article about IRS and its history of scandal, with a few quotes from that article.
“By traditions, he [Obama] presumably meant the nation’s laws, which for decades have held that the federal government cannot target specific groups or individuals for tax enforcement without cause. But the IRS has a long history of disregarding this tradition.
For much of the post-war period, the agency has failed to meet its mission of neutrality, bowing to political pressure and resisting repeated attempts at internal reforms. On multiple occasions, it has become embroiled in scandal due to exactly the sort of behavior that senior IRS officials now admit occurred between 2010 and 2012.”
Some of the most egregious abuses of the last 50 years were undertaken at the behest of the FBI, sometimes under the cover of a secret domestic counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO. In May 1968, a memo was sent to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. “The New Left on many occasions viciously and scurrilously attacked the Director and the Bureau,” the FBI memo read, according to the Church Committee report, a 1976 Senate investigation on U.S. intelligence abuses. The next day, Hoover authorized a new program to “expose, disrupt and otherwise neutralize” groups and individuals on the left, in part by employing the IRS as a weapon in the secret federal campaign.
Questions have also been raised about whether the agency targets its audits to avoid complicating the lives of Presidents and key members of Congress. A 2001 empirical study of IRS audits published in the Economics and Politics journal found a clear pattern in audits between 1992 and 1997: “Other things being the same,” the authors wrote, “the percentage of tax returns audited by the IRS is markedly lower in states that are important to the sitting president’s re-election aspirations. We also find that the IRS is responsive to its oversight committees.”
Given the size of our modern government, its intricate and varied nature, along with the growth of the media and of confrontational politics, it is almost inevitable that every modern Presidential administration will have at least one if not more scandals. The real measuring of a President in regards to scandals is not whether any occurred during his term in office, but rather, how directly was he involved in creating the scandal and what actions did he take to correct the problem after it was brought to light.
Using these more rational criteria, President Obama is still doing well. At least in regards to Benghazi and the IRS. Now, in regards to the drone program……