It Can Happen Here

Shortly before the second-term inauguration of Barack Obama this January, I wrote the following of my worries over the Obama way of doing business:

But the untruths and hypocrisy hover in the partisan atmosphere and incrementally and insidiously undermine each new assertion that we hear from the president — some of them perhaps necessary and logical. Indeed, the more emphatically he adds “make no mistake about it,” “let me be perfectly clear,” “I’m not kidding,” or the ubiquitous “me,” “my,” and “I” to each new assertion, the more a growing number of people will come to know from the past that what follows simply is not true. Does this matter? Yes, because when the reckoning comes, it will be seen as logical rather than aberrant — and long overdue.

I ended my prognostications with the warning, “And so a reckoning is on the near horizon. Let us pray it does not take us all down with his administration.”

Four months later, it almost has.

In January, of course, we all knew that Obama had misled the country on the nature of the disaster that is called Obamacare—a bill forced through on an entirely partisan basis through extraordinary legislative pay-offs and exemptions. The author of the bill, Sen. Max Baucus, dubbed it a “train wreck”; the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi (who helped ram through the bill), claimed that we needed to pass the bill to find out what is in it.

Obama’s first-term methodology was in line with his history of dissimulation—promising to accept public campaign financing before becoming the first presidential candidate in the general election to refuse it; demagoguing the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols as a senator as useless or unlawful (e.g., Guantanamo as “al-Qaeda’s chief recruiting tool”), only to embrace or expand them all once he became president; and stoking racial animosity by weighing in during the Professor Henry Louis Gates psychodrama and the Trayvon Martin murder case, and asking La Raza activists “to punish our enemies.” The president had a strange habit, like a moth to a flame, of demagoguing the wealthy as toxic (spread the wealth, pay your fair share, fat cat, you didn’t build that, etc.), while being attracted to the very lifestyle that he damns, a sort of Martha’s Vineyard community organizer. Sometime in 2009, $250,000 in annual income became the dividing line between “us” and “them.” When we hear the president remind us that he is not a tyrant or monarch, then we assume he laments that fact; "make no mistake about it" ensures that you should believe that the president is not being "perfectly clear."

Of course, in January I did not know yet that the IRS had targeted conservatives, in partisan fashion, to deflate their activism by denying their organizations pre-election tax-exempt status. (Do we now suspect why Harry Reid claimed that he knew the tax records of Mitt Romney, or why Austan Goolsbee popped off about the tax records of the Koch brothers, or how ProPublica had access to confidential tax information about Crossroads GPS [compare the ProPublica boast on their website: “Now, for the first time, ProPublica has obtained the group's application for recognition of tax-exempt status, filed in September 2010. The IRS has not yet recognized Crossroads GPS as exempt, causing some tax experts to speculate that the agency is giving the application extra scrutiny”]?)

I did not think that the administration would be so haughty to go after the Associated Press and monitor their official and private communications, especially given that the source of most national security leaks par excellence was the Obama White House itself. Recall the sordid details of the AP scandal: the AP sat on a story until they were given a quiet administration go-ahead to publish the account—even as the administration desperately wanted to scoop them and high-five over the story of the Yemeni double agent 24 hours earlier than the AP.

The AP was not first advised of the administration investigations, nor were the phone checks focused and narrow. Instead, the administration went whole hog after two months of phone records to send a message to its pets in the press—secure that Eric Holder, in Fast and Furious fashion, could always go to Congress with “I don’t now,” followed by executive privilege and stonewalling.

Meanwhile, in Machiavellian fashion the Obama administration had divulged classified information about the Stuxnet virus, the bin Laden raid, and the drone targeting—in order that sympathetic Washington Post and New York Times reporters might have pre-election fuel for the hagiographic accounts of Obama, the underappreciated commander-in-chief.

While we all knew that a filmmaker did not prompt a riot that just happened to kill four Americans, we did not, until the testimony of State Department officials and the published communications of White House, CIA, and State Department staffers, appreciate just how far the administration would go to further a false narrative. And quite a myth it was: lead-from-behind Libya was still a success; al-Qaeda was still scattered; Obama was still on the global front lines condemning anti-Islamic bigots like Mr. Nakoula, whose religious hatred supposedly had spawned violence that even the Nobel laureate Barack Obama could not deter.

Yet in some sense, Obama won. The IRS, AP, and Benghazi scandals were all adroitly kept under wraps for months before the 2012 election, as Goolsbee and Reid thundered about right-wing wealthy people not paying their fair taxes, and the press echoed a “how dare you” when anyone questioned the frightening state of events.

Living in Oceania

And now?

Suddenly in 2013, what was once sure has become suspect. All the old referents are not as they once were. The world is turned upside down, and whether the government taps, politicizes, or lies is not so important if it subsidizes the 47%. Does anyone care that five departments of government are either breaking the law or lying or both (State [Benghazi], Defense [the harassment issues], Justice [monitoring of phone lines], Treasury [corruption at the IRS], Health and Human Services [shaking down companies to pay for PR for Obamacare])?