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Obama and the GOP Scandal Fetish

President Obama, stepping in it a lot lately.

President Obama, stepping in it a lot lately.

In the cocoon of our public debate Obama gets high marks on foreign policy. That is because his policies’ principal aim is not to make strategic decisions but to satisfy public opinion– he has done more of the things that people want and fewer of the things we have to do that may be unpopular. To our allies, however, our constant tactical maneuvers don’t add up to a coherent strategy or a vision of global leadership. – Vaili Nasr The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat

PRESIDENT Obama is confusing people still, amid a scandal atmosphere he didn’t think he’d ever have to address. Obama’s gone from aggressive on national security to being called “skittish” by the Washington Post, to “President Paserby” by Dana Milbank. He’s caught in the vortex of Washington smelling weakness, because Republicans finally see a way to wound a man who came into office in 2008 as one thing, when people refused to see simply another politician smartly playing the game to win.

From the Washington Post and make sure you notice the headline:

President Obama’s professed ignorance of the targeting of conservatives by one government agency and his support of tracking journalists’ sources by another highlight one of the great paradoxes of his presidency: Sometimes he uses his office as aggressively as anyone who’s held it; other times he seems unacquainted with the work of his own administration.

The controversies over the Internal Revenue Service’s scrutiny of tea party and other conservative groups and the Justice Department’s surveillance of Associated Press journalists are only the latest examples of Obama’s a la carte governing style.

[...] Obama came into office promising to rein in what he and other Democrats charged were frequent overreaches of executive authority by George W. Bush’s administration. He vowed to strive for non-ideological, bipartisan solutions to problems.

In practice, Obama followed Bush’s lead when it came to executive power in fighting terrorism and other areas. His administration invoked the state-secrets privilege to avoid disclosing information when challenged in court, and Obama asserted executive privilege to withhold information from Congress amid questions about the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation. …

[...] “It’s one thing for the president to make sure he doesn’t say or do anything that might undermine the independence of agencies like the Justice Department or the IRS,” Tribe said. “It’s quite another for the president to insulate himself to a degree that creates the false public impression of disinterest or indifference.”

President Obama thinks his primary purpose as president is to find common ground between parties, which he said himself in 2007 and to which I refer often. On policy it’s quite different, which informs one reason why he has not been successful in negotiating with Congress. He can’t succeed on Capitol Hill because Republicans decided a long time ago to thwart Obama no matter what. There’s not a lot he can do about that.

However, a case that Vali Nasr makes in his book, which we’ve talked about around here a lot, is that President Obama never demands anything. Not from Congress, not from the American people, and not from his military advisers either. There’s less bully and more pulpit word salad slinging from Obama, who is the antithesis of LBJ. Obama can be manipulated by the ingrained forces that need to be challenged. This has shown up again and again in his presidency.

Obama is seen as strong on national security, because he doesn’t buck tradition, ceding most of the decisions to the Pentagon, which is why he wanted Hagel at the DoD, because through a military man Obama can find cover for what he wants to do. President Obama will not take on the military industrial complex himself. This is something I warned about from the start, with no one believing that Obama was much the same when it came to national security as Clinton, except that she believes in soft power much more. Clinton did prove she’d take on the military, through budgeting and asserting diplomatic power over military, even when White House aides stymied her again and again, because of their skepticism and outright distrust. This dynamic is being proven conclusively through the history being written about the Obama administration, from Nasr to Ron Suskind, with the power Obama’s aides maintain on the Obama presidency very real, reminiscent of the Reagan era in many ways.

The reason Obama has no problem standing by the AP secret dragnet is because he sees this as a national security problem, not a First Amendment issue. He has sided with CIA Director Brennan and the intelligence complex on it, which isn’t surprising, however uninspiring.

As far as Benghazi, it will remain a Republican fetish, with Obama haters never to be satisfied. But with the email release and the reporting that Republicans had doctored emails, along with ABC being duped, and Stephen Hayes being shown as the best partisan stenographer Republicans have, the general public has turned it off.

This brings me to Obama’s domestic policy, which includes the IRS scandal especially. The bubble in which President Obama operates has gotten him into this mess. His aides make it possible. It’s not so much he’s “skittish” or a “passerby,” but insulated so that a plausible case for deniability is always available to him. However, caught in the traditional DC scandal atmosphere where Obama now finds himself enveloped, they just don’t know what to do. They didn’t anticipate it, aren’t prepared for it, and all they can hope is the public tires of it all as Memorial Day and the summer looms.

Republicans won’t let the IRS scandal go. They can’t possibly pass by the opportunity to let a good yarn of a weakened and allegedly scandal ridden Democratic president be churned into a preemptive campaign to take back power.

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5 Responses to Obama and the GOP Scandal Fetish

  1. newdealdem1 May 19, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    The quote with which you begin your commentary from the book by Vaili Nasr “The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat” (that title alone practically says it all is a poignant and valid critique, imo. And, a big part of the problem, Obama’s problem are the WH politico’s who have not, imo, served him well and his continued loyalty to them (mostly because they remain in the realm of his comfort zone) has become toxic (if it hasn’t always been the case and I think it has since the start of Obama’s Presidency).

    Thanks, Taylor, for introducing me and hopefully your other readers and/or commenters to Mr Nasr’s book which as the title and your opening quote from his book indicates is an indispensable critique of Obama’s foreign policy.

    Although I haven’t read his book yet, not soon after your introduction to Nasr, I was fortunate last weekend to watch/listen to an interview w/him on Book TV (cspan2). It’s there in the video archives for anyone interested. Nasr presents his case with disarming knowledge and not only provides a critique of Obama’s foreign policy but gives some solutions for the US to change course and to not retreat especially in the Middle East.

    I haven’t read his book but I just purchased the audio version this morning.
    And, yes, “Confidence Men” by Suskind is another indispensable book. ___________________________________________________________________________

    In related Obama and his Administration news. An insightful and newsworthy (for once) Newsweek article “How Gitmo Imprisoned Obama” by Daniel Klaidman

    Two things are revealed in this article which stand out:

    (1) Obama’s Chief of Staff (COS) at the time, Rahm Emmanuel went behind Obama’s back and huddled with Republicans to undermine the President and his AG’s initiative to try some Gitmo prisoners in civil court in NY. I remember Emmanual from the Clinton WH (both of whom came to mistrust him) and he remains as untruthworthy as he was then. While he seemed the perfect choice as COS for Obama, he was anything but that and didn’t serve his POTUS at all well (and his GITMO backstab is not the only time he played Goneril – the deceiving daughter of Lear who undermined him at every turn to usurp his power – to Obama’s Lear).

    (2) Hillary Clinton wrote a 2-page memo before she left State, pleading the case (once again – she had done this before on several occasions and was rebuffed by Obama’s Political team: see Note) to close GITMO.

    From the article:

    Start Quote from Article:

    “One recent plea, two sources told Newsweek, came from Hillary Clinton, who just before she left office in January 2013, sent a two-page confidential memo to Obama about Guantanamo, Clinton had, during her years in the administration, occasionally jumped into the fray to push her colleagues to do more on the issue. One of those occasions was at a White House meeting of Obama’s national-security principals in August 2010. “”We are throwing the president’s commitment to clost Guantanamo into the trash bin,” she chastised White House aides, according to three participants in the matting. “We are doing him a disservice by not working harder on this.”

    “But at the end of the day, Clinton had little leverage to get the White House to act. Now, in one of her last moves as secretary of State, she was making a final effort to prod her boss to do more. Her memo was replete with practical suggestions for moving ahead on Gitmo. Chief among them: Obama needed to appoint a high-level official to be in charge of the effort, someone who had clout and proximity to the Oval Office. Further, Clinton argued that Obama could start transferring the 86 detainees who’d already been cleared for release. (Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the administration’s ability to transfer Gitmo detainees–including a stipulation that the secretary of Defense certify that detainees sent to other countries would not engage in acts of terrorism. In her memo, Clinton pointed out that the administration could use “national-security waivers” to circumvent the restriction.)

    The Clinton missive perturbed White House aides, who viewed it as an attempt to put them on the spot, according to a senior administration official. It’s unclear how Obama himself reacted to the memo; there’s no evidence that it spurred him to action. (The White House declined to comment for this story.) But whether or not the memo played a role in changing the president’s thinking, the mere fact that Clinton felt the need to write it was noteworthy, because it suggested the degree to which Guantánamo, four years into the Obama presidency, remained an irritant for her–and for many other high-level administration officials as well.”

    End Quote from Article

    Note: Re/the WH Political Team: It was obvious from the start that they didn’t trust Clinton and even after her years of loyal service to their President, they never changed their intractable and absurd opinion. It was Obama’s political team and some of his more rabid supporters – such as Rachel Maddow who went into a long and silly , almost hysterical , reverie on her objection to Clinton’s nomination by Obama as SOS (as with Obama’s WH politico’s, Maddow didn’t trust Clinton). And, neither the WH politico’s nor Maddow (and many of Obama’s supporters) knew anything even remotely close to who she was (loyal and a team player to the nth degree).

    The political team in the WH has not done well by President Obama and his unfortunate bent to trust these people because they have been with him for a long time, seems to be a big part of the problem. He desperately needs someone outside of his “comfort zone” as an adviser or advisers (ala Hillary Clinton) whom he can trust to do right by him (and more importantly to do right by the country and us, it’s citizens.

    Given the two up front stories this week (AP and the IRS) that have caused the Administration fits and contributed to little getting done legislatively in DC (and it seems to only have deteriorated further: even if the gang of 8 are working on the immigration bill behind the scenes, the tea party base has been so fired up over these “scandals”, the water has been muddied here and GOP reps who may have voted YES on an immigration bill may now vote NO to answer their “Freak Out Nation” tea party electorate.)

    • Ramsgate May 20, 2013 at 11:54 am #

      Et Tu NewDealDem1 :-)

      Read all of R. Suskinds books.

      The single most depressing characteristic of the left is never to hold Obama responsible for anything. At what point do people realize that the buck stops with him. As such, I have very little patience with statements like: ” The people who served him did not serve him well” when he is the one who chose those people AND he specifically places a premium on people “with whom he feels most comfortable” rather than “Effective and efficient and capable managers who can get the job done.” Why blame “other people” ?

      HE runs around the country exhorting others not to make excuses yet people are always making excuses for him. He is the one who chose Rahm Emmanuel. I was shocked beyond belief at such a depressing choice.. Maybe he thought because Rahm cursed a lot it meant he was tough, but he had absolutely no management experience. It was his very first hire. He stated that he knew Rahm would always have his back. I was shocked when he picked Geithner, given the way he positioned himself in the campaign. But he had already began to morph into something else.

      The man went into the WH without a vision. He was driving blind, playing it by ear. It is he who has absolutely no conviction because he stands for nothing. He will cave on anything.

      On immigration. It may pass. And this is a BIG may because it is in the interest of the Republicans, but they are so self-destructive all bets are off.
      And since as I said the administration has no idea how to get things DONE, if the Republicans don’t want it, it won’t get done.

      The Republicans are motivated by one thing: Obama hatred.
      They will do anything and say anything they could possibly do to block him from achieving his goals.
      As we have seen they will go so far as to doctor emails, and this WH is so timid and lame they won’t call them out on it.
      They would destroy the country to hurt Obama if they could be sure their hands would not be soiled by their nasty deeds.
      Truly a criminal class. This is never going to go away no matter how hard Obama tries to woo them and win them over.
      The fever is never going to break. They will never admit this as some try to remain paragons of civility and efficiency as best they can.
      If the subject rears its ugly head, they will do all they can to change the subject because it is so damned irresponsible.
      But it is who and what they are — Obama haters.

      Instead of calling them out, Obama and the Democrats allow them to get away with this subterfuge and their treachery. Every once in a while they’ll take a stab at it at fund raisers, but for the most part they treat the republicans as if they are everyday normal, patriotic Americans working for the benefit of the American people. To this extent the Republicans are always able to muddy debates on very important issues, taking the Democrats far afield as the hapless Dems lose sight of the real issues and they get lost in the weeds. They always play on Republican turf, sometimes even forced to use Republican talking points.

      In the meantime, the only result important to the Republican is: This “thing” must not pass.

  2. fairmindedindependent May 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    I think President Obama’s foreign policy is way, way better than his domestic policy. The hawks are wanting to go to war with Syria, but from what I have been reading, Russia just brought in warships and that Russia has just sold and transported very advanced weapons to Syria including anti-cruse missiles. I just don’t think Russia is sitting this one out like it did in Libya. Putin is way different from his predecessor. The Russians think they should not have allowed some NATO countries from attacking Libya, so Russia is digging in its heels when it comes to Syria so President Obama is going the right thing by foreign policy. But his domestic policy that’s another story. He always thinks that working with the Republicans is best, he even said he would put Social Security and Medicare on the table, which no Democratic President should never do. Presidents seem to only have Yes people around them and that gets them in trouble. Hillary Clinton and maybe John Kerry are the only ones I can think of that can speak up and offer advice. The Republicans are going to hold more meetings on the IRS scandal. Miller didn’t help himself among the IRS very much. Congress is going to call in more people to testify. A couples of things the IRS seemed to do was to not trust Washington even more, if that was possible and the IRS actually helped save the Tea Party. People from both sides seem to want Eric Holder to resign. I don’t see that happening.

  3. Lake Lady May 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

    I am reading Nasar’s book now and it is very enlightening. I can’t help but wonder what a Clinton presidency with Holbrook as SOS would have been like. Very different than Obama’s has been. Hillary is a hawk but a smart hawk and not intimidated by the military brass unlike the president.

    I keep remembering what people were saying about Obama as he was running the first time. People said his inexperience did not matter that his “wisdom” was so great. I did not get that then, did they base it on his one safe anti-dumb war speech? It could not have been based on his IL. senate record.

    Once in office everyone early observations were that he was so self confident. I don’t doubt that his is but his unwillingness to get out of his cozy bubble of adoring insiders seems to belie that somewhat.Jonathon Alter ( of all people) said recently that he has a habit of infatilizing all of his aides and that they were very young and adoring. That does not sound very self confident either.Nasr says he did not make demands on the generals to give him alternatives to COIN but spent weeks holding meetings and going over the same recomendations over and over. He also indicated that Obama’s political team really fenced him in and did not allow alternative thinking to come before him, like Holbrook’s who believed in a diplomatic solution.

  4. Ramsgate May 20, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    Great post Taylor.

    IMO, Americans know very little about foreign policy so unless there’s a conflagration Obama’s numbers will always be positive. Republicans don’t do a lot of agitating about this because for the most part he follows Bush’s policies and he slaughters Muslims abroad with his drones and they are okay with that. They’d like him to get involved in even more wars and more killing. Guantanamo is open and Muslims are dying.

    As for this point: “He can’t succeed on Capitol Hill because Republicans decided a long time ago to thwart Obama no matter what. There’s not a lot he can do about that.”

    I think you know I disagree with this. It all goes to his (in)competence and his lack of managerial skills. But that’s for another thread.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong