The President considers and portrays himself as an outsider, and he is in a way, but as President he bears responsibility for the country and its government.
Mr. Obama was elected President with little practical experience. (He had spent four years as a U.S. Senator and eight years as an Illinois State Senator, and maintained a low profile in each.) The President spends an inordinate amount of time campaigning (and a surprising amount of time playing golf.) As Peggy Noonan wrote recently in the Wall Street Journal, he “seems profoundly disinterested in good governing.” He appears arrogant and dismissive of other’s ideas. He exhibits what Victor Davis Hanson has called an “unchecked hubris.”
Most telling, though, he is a man who was mentored by many who disliked and perhaps hated the United States and its Western values – people like the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, his pastor for twenty years. During the 2008 campaign Mr. Obama tried to distance himself from his longtime pastor, condemning his outrageous ravings. Nevertheless, the Reverend Wright did officiate at his wedding and at the baptism of his daughters, and Mr. Obama sat in his pews listening to his sermons for two decades. In Hawaii, Frank Marshall Davis, a former member of the Communist Party, was his mentor on race throughout his adolescent years. At Columbia, Edward Said a spokesperson for Palestinian terrorists was a mentor, as was Derrick Bell of Harvard, an advocate of “critical race theory,” His first campaign for public office kicked off with a fundraiser in the home of Bill Ayers, a former domestic terrorist who had planted bombs in the Pentagon, among other public places.
Never before has a man with such a background become President of the United States. Very few people who serve (or have served) in Washington in any capacity have ever come to the capital having had mentors, allies and advisors who so despised the United States. What proved so attractive about the unknown (and uninvestigated) Mr. Obama? Was it his exotic background, yet one with Ivy League credentials? Certainly that appealed to coastal elites. At some point in college he asked people to stop calling him by the more prosaic “Barry” and to call him by the more colorful, “Barack.” He was (and is) articulate, yet carries a sense of mystery. He was someone that appealed to those who feel good about falling in love with someone or something they do not understand. In my opinion, had he not been African-American, he never would have been nominated, let alone elected. His campaign took full advantage of the fear so many have of being deemed politically incorrect. It allowed him to campaign unquestioned. In our PC world, the fear of political incorrectness exceeds the want to be morally right. It is discouraging.
The recent scandals are not out of character and are symptomatic of a man who puts ideology above responsibility to the people. It is a belief in the maxim that the end justifies the means. It is a radical philosophy, not uncommon to such political extremes as Communism and Nazism.
Modern Presidents, and presumably many who came before, live (or lived) choreographed lives. Their every move and words are pre-determined by acolytes who carry out the wishes of their boss. They are insulated from criticism, especially those on the Left, as mainstream media tends to blindly support them. This President sailed into the White House on waves of adoration from fans and a Press that put adulation above disinterested and skeptical reporting.
Were it not for a residual element of goodwill that the people have for the President, the Benghazi scandal and the IRS scandal would have brought his Presidency down. They still might. The lies in both cases were outrageous, and there is little question that they originated in the White House. The shame is that Mr. Obama has tainted many others, not all of whom are culpable, but none of whom seem to have the strength of character to call them for what they are.
Mr. Obama has referred to the scandals as “phony,” which they are not. They are real. The attack in Benghazi was not the consequence of a video. Four Americans died, perhaps unnecessarily. The IRS did target conservative groups. News people were intimidated. And, Fast and Furious did end up with American weapons in the hands of drug lords. There is, as of yet, no indication that Mr. Obama was directly involved, but as President he sets the tone for those who work for him. Until the last few moments, Richard Nixon insisted he “was not a crook.” Nevertheless, a little more than two years after the Watergate break-in, President Nixon had resigned.
The more we hear as to what happened in Benghazi, the events leading up to it, and subsequent responses by American officials, the worse the whole thing smells. We know four men, including America’s ambassador Chris Stevens, were killed. We know the cause was not a video, and we know that the attack was pre-planned and coordinated. And we also know that when the President, Secretary of State and U.N. Ambassador blamed the cause on a video, they were lying. We know that troops in the area who could have provided aid were asked to “stand down,” as were aircraft that could possibly have provided cover. We do know that one of the wounded, David Ubben, had to wait 20 hours after he had been hit in the leg before he was airlifted from the rooftop of the annex where Tyrone Powers and Glenn Doherty lay dead. We do not know the reasons for the “stand down” orders, who issued them, or why Ubben had to wait so long. We do not know how many personnel were wounded or their names. We know that none of the wounded have testified before Congress, but we do not why. We know that someone has orchestrated a cover-up, but we do not know who or why.
We know that while four Americans died in Benghazi and more were wounded, the only award announced thus far will go to former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. She will be awarded the American Patriot award by the National Defense University Foundation for having “strengthened America’s strategic interests and advanced global security.” Ms. Clinton, remember, was the one who, while standing over the four coffins of those who died in Benghazi, claimed that “what sparked the violence was a very hateful video on the internet.” We also know that Gregory Hicks, Deputy Chief of Mission at the embassy had briefed the Secretary on the night of the attack as to its cause. The award is a disgrace.
Government can only survive with funds provided by the people. For the past one hundred years, the IRS has had that responsibility in the United States. Americans, as Peggy Noonan noted recently in the Wall Street Journal, can be “cantankerous” when it comes to their feelings about the agency charged with separating them from their money. She noted that even in more halcyon days, for instance May of 2003, just under a third of all respondents had little or no faith in the agency. In May of this year, that number jumped to 57% in a Fox poll and to 60% in a Gallup poll. Once people lose faith, it takes years to rebuild it. As Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” The current scandal regarding the IRS is the biggest since Watergate and, as Ms. Noonan writes, “…the second of only two huge scandals to be visited on the agency in its entire 100-year history.”
Like Benghazi, as information has gradually leaked out, this one keeps getting worse. We know that conservative groups were targeted for extra scrutiny. We know that the decision to do so did not originate in Cincinnati. We know that Lois Lerner, former head of the exempt organizations office and the office of the IRS general counsel (one of two Presidential appointees at the IRS) were in intense talks. We know that, since revelations were made public in May, the IRS has been “slow walking” and obstructionist. We know that the IRS has provided only a fraction of the documents requested by the House Oversight Committee. It appears that damage control is more important than determining the truth. Like Benghazi, we do not know if the President had any previous knowledge, but we do know that in 2010 he chastised the Supreme Court before a joint session of Congress and a national TV audience at his State of the Union for their decision on Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit 501(c)(4) group. There had to be IRS employees listening and watching. It is the President who sets the tone.
Jesse Norman, in his biography, Edmund Burke: The First Conservative, quotes Burke writing just before the American Revolution: “…in this character of the Americans, a love of freedom is the predominant feature…This fierce spirit of liberty is stronger in the English colonies, probably than in any other people of the earth.” That spirit lives on today. The scandals are not phony; they are real. They reflect an attitude that is alien to all thinking people who have knowledge of history and what happens when political power goes unchecked. Like Nixon, this Administration sees itself above the law. “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.” “So, where I can act on my own, I’m going to act on my own. I won’t wait for Congress.” Each line was from Mr. Obama in the past week and each, frighteningly, received applause from specially invited guests. It was more reminiscent of a rally before a big high school football game, than a serious political speech.
We have a President who finds Congress “inconvenient.” We have a Press that focuses on gridlock within Congress; yet, as Daniel Henninger pointed out in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Congress, especially the House, reflects the people. It is the people who are gridlocked. There is a segment of the population – we can call them the Elites, and President Obama is one of them – who feel that government is best run by a small group of well-placed, well-educated (and, frankly, supercilious) people, generally from the coasts. Facing them are millions of “us.” Some of us have a difficult time articulating our concerns. We sense something is going terribly wrong, but finding the right words is hard. We know that our form of government is not efficient. It is supposed to be deliberative, with checks and balances to prevent any one part from assuming too much power. We see a growing centralization of power and it concerns us, and we see our representatives, especially those in the “people’s House,” being trivialized. And we know that ultimate authority resides in the individual, which he exercises by his vote.
‘Phony’ is defined as “not genuine; fraudulent.” The scandals may not rise to impeachable offenses, but they certainly cannot be described as phony. In every case there is more to the story than the Administration has let on. Investigations should proceed and let the chips fall where they may. The President’s favorite offense is “us” versus “them,” with “them” being the leadership. He ignores the fact that, as President, he is “them” – the man in charge and the one responsible.
“The thought of the day” by Sydney Williams
The views expressed on austriancenter.com are not necessarily those of the Austrian Economics Center.
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