If politics is a game, the Obama administration has gone through three relief pitchers and allowed Republican batters to clear the bases more than once. The sight of high-level IRS official Lois Lerner taking the fifth at a hearing today is just awful. The IRS scandal, where conservative groups were targeted for extra scrutiny by bureaucrats, is an offense everyone can relate to because it highlights a fear that most of us have — that someone in power will unfairly use his or her power to make our life difficult.
At best the whole IRS imbroglio is an example of ignorance and incompetence among lower-level employees. But we still don’t know if there was a deliberate effort by higher officials to specifically target conservative groups. That’s much worse. What has been learned is that high IRS officials knew about the scandal long before earlier this month, when a planted question at a routine press conference allowed the bad news to finally get out. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about this and the administration should follow the advice of liberal LA Times columnist Doyle McManus, which is be more forthcoming.
The IRS scandal could harm the implementation of ObamaCare. The tax collectors have a major role in enforcing the new health care law, and conveniently for GOP pols, the head of the Obamacare IRS squad played a role in the scrutiny of conservative groups. It’s easy to foresee a call that the IRS’s role in ObamaCare be eliminated.
A second wild pitch by the administration that legitimizes GOP scandal-searchers, such as Reps. Darrell Issa and Jason Chaffetz, is the news that the Justice Department identified Fox News journalist James Rosen as a “co-conspirator and/or aider and abettor” in an espionage investigation. This was learned after a slightly less embarrassing revelation that the Justice Department had been secretly ferreting through the work lives of Associated Press reporters
In this Washington post column, liberal journalist Dana Milbank explains why “The Rosen affair is as flagrant an assault on civil liberties as anything done by George W. Bush’s administration, and it uses technology to silence critics in a way Richard Nixon could only have dreamed of.”
As Milbank notes, if you start to prosecute the press for doing its job just because the government doesn’t want the information out there, that infringes on the First Amendment. If that can be infringed on, the oppressors will feel free to take on other rights. Milbank writes: “Guns? Privacy? Due process? Equal protection? If you can’t speak out, you can’t defend those rights, either.”
The Rosen affair is similar to Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon papers, as well as efforts during World War II to indict the Chicago Tribune for treason based on its reporting. In both cases, Nixon and FDR lost their battles with the press.
I don’t believe any of the scandals, including Benghazi, will take down President Barack Obama. Frankly, I believe what some regard as ludicrous — that the president learned of the IRS scandal from reading the newspapers. In this era, presidents are closely protected and kept out of the loop by their staff. It may be a White House job description to fall on the sword, but that doesn’t extend to the commander in chief.
What’s happening is the result of a badly managed administration, one that appears to be far better at campaigning than governing.