A video interview of James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Web” column by Mary Kissel of the Journal, discussing his recent columns on Obama’s myriad scandals, not the least of which includes siccing the IRS on his enemies:
As we wrote Friday, this will be a scandal like Watergate if it turns out that the IRS was acting under orders from Barack Obama or Valerie Jarrett. If the White House’s conduct turns out to be unimpeachable, then it is something far worse: a sign that the government itself has become a threat to the Constitution.
But it’s worth pondering how Watergate helped bring about the current crisis of authority. It oversimplifies matters only slightly to say the liberal left owes its cultural authority to three events in the 1960s and 1970s. The culmination of the civil-rights movement in 1964-65 established its moral authority. The antiwar movement’s success at securing defeat in Vietnam established its political authority. Watergate discredited the Republican Party. (It also made heroes of journalists and provided impetus for restricting the political speech of those who are not media professionals.)
The political result of all this was more polarization. The ascendant left became dominant in the Democratic Party, driving conservatives into the Republican camp, which in turn encouraged liberal Republicans to become Democrats. The cultural result — the effect on journalistic, educational, charitable and scientific institutions — was both polarization and left-wing domination.
The left, certain of its moral authority, felt entitled to rule. The grandiose Barack Obama was the personification of that attitude, if not a caricature of it. The Portland Press Herald notes a lovely example from the newly released memoir of Maine’s recently retired Sen. Olympia Snowe:
In an earlier phone call, Obama had told the Republican that she could be “a modern-day Joan of Arc” by supporting his health care bill, now known as “Obamacare.” When Snowe pointed out Joan of Arc had been burned at the stake, Obama reportedly replied: “Don’t worry, I’ll be there with a fire hose!” She still voted against the bill on the Senate floor.
Try to imagine Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton making that pitch.
Moral authority entails a moral hazard: the temptation to abuse political and cultural power. Today’s liberal left conceives of itself as being on the side of all that is good, right and reasonable. It caricatures the right as racist, extremist, greedy, dishonest, fanatically religious, prone to violence — and dangerous because, through the Republican Party, it has maintained parity in the political arena. Of the 10 presidential elections since Watergate, each party won 5; and voters haven’t entrusted the Democrats with full control of government for more than two years since the Carter era.
Fortunately, the Washington Post, which sometimes simplifies the events of the 1970s down to thinking of itself as the Paper That Brought You Watergate, is equally hard on Mr. Obama’s men and women as it was on All the President’s Men who served under Mr. Nixon. For example, check out these two recent headlines:
- “A White House counsel known for her shoes”
- “White House press secretary Jay Carney discusses favorite band, Guided by Voices”
In the 1920s, H.L. Mencken described his vision of journalism as a fundamentally adversarial one, no matter who was in charge. “It is the prime function of a really first-rate newspaper to serve as a sort of permanent opposition in politics.”
And then there’s whatever the Washington Post is. Journalism, baby.
Related: Andrew Klavan, with an assist from Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup, on how “The Left Can’t Handle the Truth.”
And from Glenn Reynolds, “Penalties for Politicians” — or the lack thereof: “We entrust an inordinate amount of power to people who don’t feel any pain when we fall down,” the Professor writes in his USA Today column.