Opinion: Scandals undermine trust in Obama

May 19, 2013


— Leaving aside the seriousness of lawlessness, and the corruption of our civic culture by the professionally pious, this past week has been amusing. There was the spectacle of advocates of an ever-larger regulatory government expressing shock about such government’s large capacity for misbehavior. And, entertainingly, the answer to the question “Will Barack Obama’s scandals derail his second-term agenda?” was a question: What agenda?

The scandals are interlocking and overlapping in ways that drain his authority. Everything he advocates requires Americans to lavish on government something his administration, and big government generally, undermines — trust.

Liberalism’s agenda has been constant since long before liberals, having given their name a bad name, stopped calling themselves liberals and resumed calling themselves progressives, which they will call themselves until they finish giving that name a bad name. The agenda always is: Concentrate more power in Washington, more Washington power in the executive branch and more executive power in agencies run by experts. Then trust the experts to be disinterested and prudent with their myriad intrusions into, and minute regulations of, Americans’ lives. Obama’s presidency may yet be, on balance, a net plus for the public good if it shatters American’s trust in the regulatory state’s motives.

Now, regarding Obama’s second-term agenda. His re-election theme — re-elect me because I am not Mitt Romney — yielded a meager mandate, and he used tactics that are now draining the legitimacy an election is supposed to confer.

One tactic was to misrepresent the Benghazi attack lest it undermine his narrative about taming terrorism. Does anyone think the administration’s purpose in manufacturing 12 iterations of the talking points was to make them more accurate? Another tactic was using the “federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” The words are from a 1971 memo by the then-White House counsel, John Dean, whose spirit still resides where he worked prior to prison. Congress may contain some Democrats who owed their 2012 election to the IRS’ suppression of conservative political advocacy.

Obama’s supposed “trifecta” of scandals — Benghazi, the IRS, and the seizure of Associated Press phone records — neglects some. A fourth scandal is power being wielded by executive branch officials (at the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) illegally installed in office by presidential recess appointments made when the Senate was not in recess.

A fifth might be Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius soliciting, from corporations in industries HHS regulates, funds to replace some that Congress refused to appropriate. The money is to be spent by nonprofit — which does not mean nonpolitical — entities. The funds are to educate Americans about, which might mean (consider the administration’s Benghazi and IRS behaviors) propagandize in favor of, Obamacare and to enroll people in its provisions. The experienced (former governor, former secretary of education, 10 years in the Senate) and temperate Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., compares this to the Iran-Contra scandal, wherein the Reagan administration raised private funds to do what Congress had refused to do — finance the insurgency against Nicaragua’s government.

Obama’s incredibly shrinking presidency is a reminder that politics is a transactional business, trust is the currency of the transactions, and the currency has been debased. For example:

Obama says: Trust me, I do not advocate universal preschool simply to swell the ranks of unionized, dues-paying, Democrat-funding teachers. Trust me, I know something not known by the social scientists who say the benefits of such preschool are small and evanescent.

Obama says: Trust me, the science of global warming is settled. And trust me that, although my plans to combat global warming, whenever the inexplicable 16-year pause of it ends, would vastly expand government’s regulatory powers, as chief executive I guarantee that these powers will be used justly.

Obama says: Trust me, although I am head of the executive branch, I am not responsible for the IRS portion of this branch.

Obama says: Trust me, my desire to overturn a Supreme Court opinion (Citizens United) that expanded First Amendment protection of political speech, and my desire to “seriously consider” amending the First Amendment to expand the government’s power to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political advocacy, should be untainted by what the IRS did to suppress advocacy by my opponents.     

Because Obama’s entire agenda involves enlarging government’s role in allocating wealth and opportunity, the agenda now depends on convincing Americans to trust him, not their lying eyes. In the fourth month of his second term, it is already too late for that.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


markoo 4 years, 10 months ago

Actually, George, these "scandals" are undermining the public trust in the GOP much more than in the POTUS. He's actually receiving a poll bounce as a consequence:




And what's worse, Hillary's popularity numbers are also strong and continue to climb:


This is what happens when a Republican source gives doctored emails to an ABC News reporter regarding the Benghazi affair.

This is what happens when you have a fairly decent president who's suffer little controversy and it's driving the GOP nuts.

This is what happens when you have a bunch of nuts driving your base to the extreme Right and want nothing but to slime the other side rather than do what's best for this country. They have no desire to actually legislate in the House, and it's obvious they have little understanding exactly how to do just that in the first place. And when you have racist groups like the Heritage Foundation telling the GOP to go after scandals rather than legislate:


It's painfully obvious why people simply don't like you and the rest of the GOP.

WristTwister 4 years, 10 months ago

"Actually, George, these "scandals" are undermining the public trust in the GOP much more than in the POTUS. He's actually receiving a poll bounce as a consequence:"

Did you even bother to read the analysis provided by the the polsters in the very links that yo provided?

But 59% now say that the U.S government could have prevented the attack in Benghazi, up 11 points from last November. And only 37% say that congressional Republicans are overreacting in their handling of the matter, with 59% saying they've reacted appropriately.

It's the same story on the IRS controversy, with 54% saying the GOP in Congress has not overplayed its hand.

markoo 4 years, 10 months ago

I more than welcome the investigation, as does any Democrat as well as the President himself. No one, including Obama, has called off an investigation in any way.

But please tell me what that's demonstrated so far? Has that demonstrated any hurt to Obama via the polls in any way? Furthermore, now that we know that it was a Republican Congressman who doctored those emails about Benghazi to ABC News, has that hurt either Obama or Hillary in any way via the polls?

WristTwister 4 years, 10 months ago

You must be ahead of me. I have not heard of any "doctored" emails.

Please provide a source.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 10 months ago

Keep repeating, rinse, and repeat. Then repeat some more-- the tried and true route to truthiness.

msezdsit 4 years, 10 months ago

You people keep repeating this. You think if you keep repeating it that it will become true. It is not true and no matter how much you want to believe it, that does not convert it from complete bs to the truth. You should try out the truth sometime. Look it up in the dictionary,I'm sure you will be surprised by what you find out.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

They could have prevented the 9/11 attack too. What's your point?

Armstrong 4 years, 10 months ago

Barry's record speaks for itself. If you still trust Barry that's your fault.

Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 10 months ago

Bingo! Desperation IS the word, Markoo. You hit the Nail on the Head.. The reality is setting in for the GOP and they are realizing they have painted themselves into very Precarious corners and their Political careers are in jeopardy. Desperate people do Desperate things. A drowning person will drown the rescuer. The GOP is drowning itself.

Armstrong 4 years, 10 months ago

I would agree with the worse than Watergate label being incorrect. I would have just called it status quo for a Chicago politician and inept D's trying to pull off a shoddy cover up.

deec 4 years, 10 months ago

The analogy is flawed unless there is proof that Obama directly was involved in the attack in Libya. "Cause Tricky Dick was directly involved in the Watergate break-in.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

Wrong. He was involved in the cover-up.

deec 4 years, 10 months ago

While there is no proof that he was directly involved in the actual planning of the burglary, I'm sure you'll agree all his leading advisors were involved. Since he kept a very tight rein on his White House, it strains credulity to think he didn't have a hand in it. To my knowledge, no one in the Obama White House is charged with planning the attack in Libya, so it is still a false analogy.

For the sake of brevity earlier, I misspoke. However, Nixon's crew did plan the beak in. Even the right wingers aren't alleging (I don't think) that Obama or his advisors planned and executed the Libya attack.

Alyosha 4 years, 10 months ago

A laughable bit of opinion. Mr. Will would do well to examine his own hyperbole and mischaracterizations before burdening the reading public with his claims.

Oh — and if you think Mr. Will has a good track record for a) accurately understanding things, and b) accurately predicting outcomes, simply recall his woefully misguided and inaccurate understanding about the state of facts prior to the past election, and his resulting prediction that Romney would win in a "landslide": http://www.breitbart.com/Breitbart-TV/2012/11/04/George-Will-predicts-321-217-Romney-landslide It's almost as though you have to work hard to so misconstrue reality.

If you enjoy being equally wrong, for whatever reason, do continue to rely on Mr. Will for your opinions. He's proven that he cannot be trusted to accurately understand the actual state of affairs, and as result to be helpful in predicting possible outcomes of events.

One wonders why LJW editors continue to publish his pieces.

Orwell 4 years, 10 months ago

Well, he's at least a reliable indicator of the wrong position, i.e., that of the plutocracy.

msezdsit 4 years, 10 months ago

Lets see, Obama's approval rating has gone from 51% in early April to 53% as of today. But the real story is how much congress approval ratings have sky rocketed.

Richard Heckler 4 years, 10 months ago

The focus of the USA should be:


--- Removing right wing anti American GOP legislators from government

--- Reining in the CIA and military spending

--- Jobs jobs jobs and more jobs

--- Medicare Single Payer which would create an estimated 2.4 million jobs

--- Get the massive highway rehab underway

--- Bring on cleaner energy

--- Replacing the anti american rt wing GOP with the Green Party

--- Electing a whole lot of new democrats

--- Funding education to the max = new business and new employment

--- Break up the big banks

--- Put the home loan criminals in jail!!!!!!

msezdsit 4 years, 10 months ago

Conservative spin group Heritage foundation To GOP: Don't Legislate, Focus On Scandals (Or in other words just keep doing what the republicans have been doing since Obama announced he was running for president.)


Thomas Bryce Jr. 4 years, 10 months ago

They have lost 2 Presidential Elections using this philosophy. I am betting they will make it a third. They don't seem to learn from their mistakes.

Hudson Luce 4 years, 10 months ago

The only bounce that Obama ought to be getting is his @ss out of the White House after he gets impeached. He's the reincarnation of Richard Nixon, maybe even worse than Nixon, if that's possible: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/will-bunch/ap-phone-records-whistleblowers_b_3271637.html

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

Name what laws have been broken. Could the intelligence agencies done a better job? Possibly, but then there will always be some terrorist that slips through. Did they make a mistake the attack by at first assuming it was an attack by protesters of a stupid movie trailer that a criminal put out and who ripped off a bunch of money from people to make it. Yes, but that was my assumption the first time I heard about it. The IRS people didn't really break any laws. They were just being a pain to anti tax groups. Quite frankly they should more carefully scrutinize many more tax exempt groups. I think we taxpayers are more likely getting ripped off by these groups than anyone.

tomatogrower 4 years, 10 months ago

Why are the Tea Party people amazed that they were scrutinized? They named themselves after an anti tax group; although the situations were totally different. If I got a license plate that said "Weed", I could probably expect to be pulled over often, by police and by people wanting to buy.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

If instead of a license plate you had a bumper sticker that said "I sell crack cocaine" and the cops hassled you, but someone else had a bumper sticker that said "I sell powder cocaine" and the cops let that person slide, you might get upset that the cops were making that distinction.

msezdsit 4 years, 10 months ago

Way out on a limb with that one. The 85% of those groups filing for 501c4 should have been flagged long enough for the IRS to try to figure out the murky law the republicans passed to govern these groups and the complication created by the supreme court with their catastrophic "citizens united" but it should have been done within the guidelines of those laws once they figured out what they were and how to interpret them. These groups, by nature, are trying to hide what they are doing which makes them even more of a target. None of the 85% were denied the status they applied for. (one progressive group that was denied). From here on out it will just be politicized by the republicans because unfortunately, they have decided that is more important than compromising and legislating which would actually benefit people.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

I was listening to a news report of a woman who applied for one of those tea party tax exemptions. It was held up for over three years, during which time her small business was audited as well as her personal taxes were audited. This, despite neither having been audited, ever. But you say no group was denied.

If you were to say that ALL such groups should be looked at with equal fervor, I would agree with you. But that's not what's being alleged. When groups are looked at differently because of what they think, or because of what they say, that should trouble anyone who believes in freedom of speech.

msezdsit 4 years, 10 months ago

Now, was that on Fox? I watched several people on Fox make this claim however they came under no scrutiny to support any of their claims and the Fox actors were no more than cheerleaders for their claim. Don't get me wrong nor push me to hard to defend the IRS, they have been harrassing since congress invented them. I have been audited and harassed by them for absolutely no reason. Took a lot of my time and they found no wrong doing on my part. To act like this was Obama's doing is overreach and politicizing something that has been going on forever and should be stopped. Maybe if nothing else comes of this it will force the IRS to be more transparent about their practices.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 10 months ago

I watched FOX a few times, years ago. I thought they were a little funny, not as much as Colbert and Stewart, though.

No, I get most of my news from NPR radio, so that's where I heard the story. In my opinion, NPR is a reliable news source, so when I hear a story being reported by them, I generally believe them, without having to do a lot of follow-up research on my own.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 10 months ago

The government harassment of the teapartiers pales in comparison to the harassment that the Occupy Movement has received.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.