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.


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 months ago

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


donttreadonme 11 months ago

I see the RW circle, err, echo chamber is going full speed ahead.

The funny part is that in November 2016 the rightwingers will be staring at their limp selves and wondering how Hilary got elected, while the pundits that whipped you into a frenzy are cashing their checks and laughing all the way to the bank.


Agnostick 11 months ago

"...and the corruption of our civic culture by the professionally pious..."

Did George actually write this without even a thought of irony? Or the faintest clue of how hypocritical it sounded, coming from one of the most professionally-pious, self-righteous commentators of 20th Century journalism?

"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. "

This does present a problem. Sebelius has no business doing this in her current position as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The proper way to do this would be...

1) Resign her current position

2) Open up a swank office in Washington D.C. ... maybe on K Street...

3) Apply for her very own 501(c)(4) organization. Because this is really about social welfare (I mean, c'mon... health care!), it should be a slam dunk. Often, when people are faced with difficult decisions about their health care, it stems from a place of crisis... a point in life when a difficult, life-altering decision is made. A crossroads. She could call her 501(c)(4) "Crossr-"... no, wait, that's already taken. Hhhhmmmmmmm....

Okay... let's call it "Intersections HHS." Purely a social welfare community organization, no political activity whatsoever!

This way, we can avoid the nasty taint of scandal!


Agnostick 11 months ago

It really is funny to watch the usual born-again 'Mericuns flop around in their usual fits of conniption against all things they perceive as "liberal." I really do take great fun and laughter in reading that misguided claptrap--especially from George Will.


tomatogrower 11 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.


Hudson Luce 11 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:


msezdsit 11 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.)


Richard Heckler 11 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 11 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.


SFFMassSt 11 months ago

Mr. is totally off with his use of "Scandals".

What has been occurring in America for years and years ahead of Obama is Soft tyranny.

Obama, like the people before him are exacerbating the the demise of the country.

Soft tyranny is an idea first coined by Alexis de Tocqueville in his 1835 work titled Democracy in America.[1] In effect, soft tyranny occurs whenever the social conditions of a particular community hinder any prospect of hope among its members.[2] For Tocqueville, hope is the driving force behind all democratic institutions.[3] As such, whenever this all-encompassing hope is taken away from the people, liberal democracy fails. Examples of this failure can be seen in the Weimar Republic of Germany during the 1930s or in the French Third Republic around 1940. Hope for a better future effectively died in both of the aforementioned situations. As a result, fascist regimes were established to fill the void left by the departure of hope.


weiser 11 months ago

Hussein only hears about these things by watching the news. His words, enough said!


Alyosha 11 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": 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.


Armstrong 11 months ago

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


markoo 11 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.


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