One big reason President Obama has had such a tough week is that, for once, nobody – not even members of his own party and his usually adoring press corps – is going to buy his standard line that anything wrong is due to “the mess I inherited.”
For once, he knows he can’t get away with pointing at George W. Bush. This mess – three of them actually – belongs to him.
Don’t think for a minute, though, that his huffing and puffing about holding people accountable for misconduct is going to extend to himself. No, he is as “shocked” and outraged about the various scandals as Captain Renault was to find gambling going on in a casino in “Casablanca.”
Or, taking a page from “Hogan’s Heroes,” he invokes the Sgt. Shultz defense: “I know nothing. I see nothing. I was not here. I did not even get up this morning.”
More than one sardonic political observer has quipped that apparently the only federal employees who work for the president are the members of Seal Team 6 – the soldiers who killed Osama Bin Laden.
Whenever something the president can brag about happens, he is right there to take the credit. But when there is a scandal, the poor president is the last to know. He read about it in the newspaper just like the rest of us. Nobody told him. It was low-level functionaries. He had nothing to do with it.
Sadly, he will probably get away with it. Oh, he’ll be bruised a bit, but it is doubtful he will be bloodied. As the Patriot Post noted this past week, the president’s political handlers, “are smart enough to use ‘cutouts’ between their office and the bureaucrats committing the offense.
“Cutouts are bureaucratic managers who act as surrogates to do the political bidding of elected officials. They are blamed and sacrificed for the ‘good of the cause,’ in order to protect (read: provide plausible deniability for) elected officials who feign outrage and indignation at the violation of law in support of their political agenda.”
That shouldn’t change the reality that the president and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton are responsible for the lies blaming a crude, anti-Muslim video for a planned attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stephens.
It doesn’t change the reality that targeting for harassment by the Internal Revenue Service of conservative political groups happened on Obama’s watch – very conveniently during his run for a second term.
Politico reports that among the demands of the IRS to tea party groups were to see donor rolls, printouts of Facebook posts, the names of books people were reading, copies of the groups' Web pages, blog posts and social media postings – all of which came with “stern warnings about ‘penalties of perjury’ …”
Nothing like tying the hands of groups that might be working for the president’s opponent.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney called the IRS’s behavior “inappropriate,” but as Washington Post columnist George Will noted, “using the salad fork for the entree is inappropriate. Using the IRS for political purposes is a criminal offense.”
And then there is the secret snooping by the Justice Department through two months of telephone records of more than 20 numbers (personal and business) belonging to reporters and editors for the Associated Press, to try to find the source of a leak that produced a story a year ago on the CIA stopping a terrorist plot to plant a bomb on an airplane. The president and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, own that one too.
Obama’s response, in addition to the Sgt. Shultz act, is a combination of sarcasm and pep rally.
On the Benghazi spin, he calls it an old story, puts the blame for massaging the talking points beyond credibility on the “intelligence community,” and contends, “There is no there there.” Sounds a bit like, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is,” from Slick Willie.
On the intrusion into the AP phone records, the president says he will not apologize for trying to keep Americans safe – apparently not even if any inconvenient constitutional protections get in the way. What was that about those who sacrifice liberty for security getting neither?
And finally, after making the ludicrous claim that the IRS is an “independent” agency, he announced on Wednesday the firing of the acting IRS commissioner. Big deal – the guy was going to leave next month anyway.
Finally, the president’s efforts to convince us that he’s just as angry as we are about the IRS scandal is especially rich.
It is rich, given his history of blaming the rhetoric of conservative groups for things like the shooting of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It is rich, given his Department of Homeland Security warning in 2009 that right-wing or religious “extremists” should be lumped in with terrorist groups. It is rich, given his exhortations to his followers to reward friends and punish enemies. It is rich, given that he, like millions of his followers, described tea party members with a gay sex act, and suggested that they and other shadowy conservative groups might steal elections.
The president sets the tone. All those IRS bureaucrats were doing was punishing the president’s perceived enemies.
Obama is angry? Perhaps publicly. But somehow, I don’t think anyone’s career is going to be ruined by this.
By the president’s own standard, he is responsible for what is going on. But don’t hold your breath waiting for him to hold himself accountable?
Taylor Armerding is an independent columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org