The Barack Obama administration has become a mess simultaneously convulsed by three separate scandals. Separate, yes, but each in their own way the result of a government grown too big to focus its priorities and one in which political calculation trumps all other concerns.
Revelations the Internal Revenue Service inappropriately targeted conservative and Tea Party groups for undue scrutiny as they formed 501(c)(4) organizations is the most immediate and troubling to many Americans. For good reason: The IRS affects every U.S. resident and is the one entity legally authorized to confiscate property as its primary function. Now, that’s not to say that function is an unnecessary one (to an extent), nor the agency operates as a matter of course outside the bounds of the law. But any time an agency with the reach assigned to the IRS breaches the structures in place to check its power, a free society should be alarmed. This is compounded by the fact there exists ample precedent. Both Presidents John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were known to have wielded the IRS as a weapon against political enemies.
As bad as the IRS episode is, the Benghazi scandal ranks as the most serious of the current matters and will in all probability end up inflicting the most damage to Obama’s presidency. Four American citizens, including a high-level diplomat, died in a major terrorist attack in Libya on the anniversary of THE major terrorist attack. The country has learned that (a) the attack might have been prevented (a highly subjective observation, but one worth pursuing); (b) inordinate effort was immediately expended in manufacturing a politically beneficial version of events, with the requisite deletions and circumlocutions thrown in; and (c) similar exertions were directed at keeping mouths sealed about the whole deal. Gregory Hicks’ testimony effectively shattered the fabricated account. The picture that’s developing is one of incompetence backed by a preoccupation with political ramifications — in other words, a typical day in the Obama White House.
The third scandal, the seizure of Associated Press telephone records, is probably the least worrisome in the same sense that when escaping from a burning building while being pursued by an armed assailant, a troublesome blood test result is demoted in the hierarchy of concerns. But it’s also possible the investigation that netted the phone records was in fact a legitimate national security concern. While I question whether or not any senior administration official could identify a legitimate national security concern if it boldly labeled itself and swung from the chandelier of the East Room in the White House, there remain professionals in the federal defense and law enforcement community who continue somehow to perform their duties admirably in spite of everything.
Still, there remains the question of whether or not the AP phone record seizures were motivated instead by a desire on the part of the White House to suppress any public evidence of the scope of worldwide terrorist activity that would contradict official administration claims of the absence of such threats — as the exposure of a foiled bomb attempt surely would.
What do these affairs mean? Certainly the administration has some credibility issues with which to deal. But do any rise to the level of impeachment? Unlike Benghazi, no one died in either the Watergate or Lewinsky scandals. Nevertheless, premature calls for impeachment are just that.
It’s possible, of course, that David Axelrod is right (a singular event, that) and the government has just grown so vast the president really didn’t — couldn’t — know the specifics about any of these scandals. Although it does strain credulity to suggest he knew nothing about the messaging in the Benghazi case.
It would be more profitable by far for Republicans to focus not on salacious daydreams of impeachment hearings, but more on solutions to the circumstances that created the episodes in the first place.
Starting with the IRS fiasco, one can’t look upon the mess and not see in the fallout a crying need for tax reform. Getting government out of the business of using tax policy to encourage or discourage particular behaviors and activities would rather naturally take care of the problem.
As for Benghazi, a good place to start might be to redirect the federal government away from trying to re-order society, micromanage the economy and oversee issues properly the concern of the states and instead focus its resources on things like keeping our embassies safe and our diplomats alive.