President Barack Obama. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 5:52 PM
The people who work for President Obama in the White House would benefit if they got the same job survival advice I received some years ago from one of our publishers.
“Jim, I don’t need to know about everything you fellows are putting in the paper. But if you are running something that’s highly controversial, give me a heads-up so I can be prepared for the feedback,” he said. “I don’t like to be surprised.”
Apparently things don’t work that way in the White House, judging from the comments we’ve heard from officials who have been quizzed about the trio of scandals that have surfaced in the nation’s capital.
The fact that IRS agents targeted conservative organizations is the most explosive issue because nobody likes the agency that takes too many of their hard-earned dollars every year. The longest running controversy is over not knowing what really happened at Benghazi, Libya, when four Americans — including the U.S. ambassador — were killed during a terrorist attack last September. Most folks don’t get worked up about the U.S. Department of Justice secretly seizing phone records of the Associated Press, but it does have consequences for ordinary Americans whose freedoms could also be abridged.
National Journal, a political news magazine in Washington, D.C., has done credible daily stories on these and other controversies surrounding the Obama administration.
Ron Fournier in one story said, “Discussions between officials at the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, and their bosses in the West Wing were more extensive than initially acknowledged.” He added that the White House discussed the issue with the Treasury Department but didn’t inform Obama.
Put yourself in the president’s shoes. Wouldn’t you want to know something controversial was brewing that might cause you serious credibility problems?
Some I have mentioned that to have said they believe Obama likes it that way so he can plead ignorance when confronted with the facts. Cynics have said it’s a major problem with this administration that they call either incompetence or being guilty of malfeasance. Then, there are those who insist it’s both.
Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, became the lamb the administration sent to be slaughtered on the Sunday morning political talk shows. He did a miserable job of trying to explain why the president was left out of the loop.
Josh Kraushaar of National Journal said, “... On all the Sunday shows, Pfeiffer’s party line on the IRS scandal is that it would be more problematic if the president knew about the (IRS) agency’s problems and interfered, raising the perception of meddling.”
Now, that is what you can call “the spin of all spins.”
Ronald Brownstein of National Journal sees nothing unusual in these scandals that he says “have routinely afflicted presidential second terms, either because of arrogance, inattention or the sheer weight of probability: The government is a very big institution, and the longer you control it, the greater the odds that someone somewhere does something stupid...”
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush had their small and large scandals, Brownstein said. And he thinks the current scandals appear to be “pointed toward the less momentous end of that range.”
That is his opinion, but there are many who believe these are serious abuses of the public trust that have long-term and damaging consequences.
Some of the National Journal writers believe Obama will survive the current scandals for a number of reasons. They say his job-approval rating is still hovering around 50 percent, his Democratic Party base will stick with him through thick and thin, his Republican critics will overreact and the voters aren’t that attuned to scandals — with perhaps the exception of their anger over the IRS tactics used against conservative groups.
Charlie Cook says in his column that things may change and, “Maybe these allegations will start getting traction with voters.” However, he thinks Americans are more focused on the economy that is improving.
Fournier used words like “incompetence,” “bungling” and “buffoonery” to describe reasons why people have lost faith in government. He said IRS agents lied to their bosses for months about targeting conservatives. He said Justice Department investigators violated internal guidelines to secretly spy on The AP, and White House and State Department officials minimized their role in shaping initial explanations for the Benghazi attack.
But there is more. Fournier listed the fact military officers assigned to sexual assault cases have been charged with sexual battery and wounded warriors are waiting a year or more for the Department of Veterans Affairs to settle claims, even though it received a 40 percent increase in funding.
None of us really knows how all of this will turn out. But if Americans aren’t angry or concerned about these events, then they deserve the kind of haphazard and inefficient government they are getting out of Washington, D.C.
Wouldn’t it be comforting if the president simply had the courage to apologize and say, “OK, we screwed up, but we’re going to do our dead level best to make sure these kinds of things don’t happen again.” Those of us who served in the military learned quickly there was only one acceptable answer when we made mistakes. You simply said, “No excuse, sir.”
• • •Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or email@example.com