1. Among the many foolish thoughts that have been broadcast or published about the confluence of the “scandals” that currently bedevil the Obama administration the silliest is this: Benghazi, the IRS targeting of Tea Party groups, and the Department of Justice seizure of Associate Press phone records threaten to compromise the president’s chances of any meaningful second-term achievements.
2. In the last hundred years, only Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama were twice elected with more than 50 percent of the popular vote. Obama, then, is in historic company. But the changes in the nature of politics have been so significant since Reagan’s re election in 1984 that the margin of Obama’s second-term victory will most likely be little more than a blip in the history books. Unless something unexpected was to happen, there is little reason to think that House Republicans will do anything other that torpedo Obama, unless there is some vital self-interest involved.
3. By firmly maintaining control of the House of Representatives, the Republicans have it in their power to stop or subvert any presidential initiative. Example: the defeat of gun control despite overwhelming popular support. There is, of course, immigration reform, which was just favorably reported out of a Senate Committee with some welcome Republican help. So, the issue is still wriggling. If the bill does make it to the House, there is still the chance that the most ardent Obama opponents would kill it. They will try, for sure.
4. If the House Republicans can keep the White House from achieving anything resembling a clear-cut legislative victory, why bother with this scandal nonsense? Because it is not enough to stop Obama, Republicans must humiliate him – or try to. The Republicans have no plan for the future other than a replay of the George W. Bush agenda. We all know how that turned out: two failed wars and international economic disaster. The failure to think forward has the GOP reduced to embracing the rhetoric of the Birthers. Birther Speak is not so much their weapon of choice, it is their default cudgel. The foreign-born president with a funny name is not only a secret Muslim, he is also lazy, shiftless, arrogant, and a liar. Note the blatant racial code words. And the racism works; not with a majority of the nation, but certainly with a significant minority -- many of whom belong to what public opinion experts call the Republican base.
5. The GOP’s willingness to recall one of its most shameful 20th century episodes, Richard Nixon’s Watergate, illuminates the depleted bank of intellectual capital it has to work with. Watergate, however, was a top-down story. Nixon, a public figure of Shakespearian malevolency, at the moment of his almost total triumph, goes outside the established channels of government with illegally raised funds, forms a secret intelligence unit to spy on and smear Democrats in order to ensure that the party nominate its most vulnerable opponent. Along the way, the Nixonians used the official levers of government power to stop or curtail corporate America from playing its usually cozy game of contributing to both sides of the political street. When found out, Nixon lied and stonewalled until forced to resign.
6. Many of the Nixon aides involved in Watergate called their antics “rat fucking”. Rat fucking is a term that emerged from World War II. It was what some soldiers called messing with the enemy that fell short of an open and traditional battle. Veterans carried the term home with them. At the University of Southern California it took root in campus politics, which were not quite as laid back as the general California lifestyle. A number of USC grads wound up in the Nixon White House and its political apparatus.
7. What the Republican Party establishment is doing at the moment is rat fucking the Democrats and Obama. There is nothing surreptitious about it. In fact, the beauty of it all -- from the instigators’ point of view -- is that the attack rests on misperceptions, half-truths, and outright lies deployed with the brazenness of someone speaking the truth -- or merely raising uncomfortable questions. It’s passive aggression, perfectly legal but intellectually dishonest.
8. Unlike Watergate, which was an obscenity, a dramatic plan to seize – ironically -- more power than Nixon really needed, Benghazi, the IRS, and AP are bottom up affairs. Not so much the tyranny of clerks, this trio of disturbing developments is the work of faceless bureaucrats and appointees who were left unsupervised for too long. That Obama has not been able to cut off the oxygen is the wonder of it all.
9. To me, it looks as if Obama is the victim of the Republicans. Victimhood is not an appealing station in public life, just as petulance is not an effective way to sway public opinion.
10. So far, public opinion is still with Obama. As I was finishing this piece, MSNBC reported that the President's favorability rating was running at 53 percent. That's a touch higher than the 51.1 percent that won him re election last year. But if these scandals can not be put to bed, history suggests that within two months or so, Obama's numbers will slide. Of course, the Republicans' mindless negativity also risks alienating the public. That happened when Bill Clinton was embroiled by the Monica Lewinsky affair. Disgust with GOP hypocrisy boomeranged, and the Democrats made substantial mid-term Congressional gains. Hence the warning to Republicans by the right-wing National Review; "Scandal is not an agenda".
11. Like most Americans, I like Obama. I am, however, growing tired of his act. Obama has two big problems here. He has run a sloppy shop and finds himself in hot water and is too taken with his perception of himself to break character and either a.) Wrangle his way out, or b.) Vanquish his truly loathsome tormentors. More problematic, I think, is that these wildly different problems represent a rational extension of what government by elite, progressive Ivy Leaguers represents. In Bush, we saw the culmination of three presidential cycles of rule by irresponsible, greedy cowboys. Benghazi, the IRS, and AP represent a snapshot, a glimpse, of new class malignancy. It is more buttoned down than the swashbuckling illegality of Nixon, or the blatant unconstitutionality of Ronald Reagan’s Iran Contra, or the big lies of Bush and Dick Cheney. That the attack on AP, the IRS targeting of the Tea Party, and the double talk around Benghazi is a matter of procedure does not make it any less alarming. Liberals who love procedure because it is supposed to be neat and clean are now confronted with some pretty disturbing stuff.
12. Let’s not forget, you do not make it to Washington without being power mad.