It’s been a bad few weeks for the Obama administration. But it’s been even worse for the President’s hardcore advocates in the press, who are struggling to come up with a narrative that reconciles their view of Barack Obama as the Greatest Progressive President Ever with the IRS’ use of its power to bludgeon the President’s political opponents, the new testimony of Benghazi whistleblowers whose stories betray the White House’s deceit about the events that transpired on September 11, 2012, and most recently, the Justice Department’s wiretapping of AP and Fox News reporters’ phones.
The “mainstream” media’s standard tack has been either largely to ignore the Obama administration’s abuses of power, to give them minimal coverage, or to argue that -- whatever happened -- it’s just a blip; an aberration being “politicized” by Republicans.
But these instances are no aberrations. They are just the most recent examples in a pattern of deceit and disregard for constitutional limits to political power that the Obama administration has displayed since Day One.
This would have been clearer to the general public much earlier (read: before the 2012 election) were it not for the fact that so many in the MSM have not only not challenged the administration out on its excesses; rather, they have aided and abetted it at every turn.
A complete list is beyond the scope of one article, but here are just a few examples:
1. Obama’s background. The media -- including, by the way, most right-wing media -- have had a field day castigating as “crazies,” “conspiracy theorists” and “birthers” anyone who suspected that the president was born in Kenya. (For what it's worth, I believe he was born in the United States). But no one asked where such a ridiculous idea would have started in the first place. Turns out the President himself had been claiming he was born in Kenya, via his publicist. The First Lady’s public remarks about Obama’s “home country of Kenya” only added to that claim. The media could have discovered this, had they pursued it. (Breitbart eventually found it.) But they never pursued this. They never pressed the president about how or why he had claimed to be born in Kenya. They never investigated any of the other falsehoods, “composite characters,” unsavory relationships, or glaring gaps in Obama’s background story. Some of the most telling admissions were revealed in a series of interviews given by President Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright to author Ed Klein. The MSM’s response? Crickets.
2. Taxes for thee, but not for me. How many of the President’s appointees have owed back taxes? (Perhaps the IRS was too busy trampling the rights of Tea Party groups to actually collect them.) Where was the press outrage over this? Z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z-z.
3. Fast and Furious just dull and tedious. Eric Holder’s days as Attorney General may well be numbered as a result of authorizing the search of reporters’ phone and email records. But look how much it’s taken to get to this point. The media virtually ignored claims made by J. Christian Adams that Holder’s Justice Department didn’t think the Voting Rights Act applied to white Americans intimidated by New Black Panthers’ threatening statements at polling places. A recent Inspector General report echoed many of Adams’ concerns, and painted a picture of the Justice Department as profoundly unprofessional and deeply partisan, with (as one writer put it), an “appalling” level of “personal nastiness.”
The “Fast and Furious” scandal, including the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, was papered over by the media, despite a handful of journalists (CBS’ Sharyl Attkisson and Townhall’s Katie Pavlich, most notably) whose investigations revealed that the “gunwalking” sales in Mexico were part of a plan to force gun control downAmericans’ throats. Holder, in what has become a disturbing pattern, claimed to know nothing. He also refused to turn over documents demanded by Congress, and became the first sitting U.S. Attorney General to be held in contempt of Congress. (The President, in a battle that is ongoing, claimed Executive Privilege in the affair.) Has the media held their feet to the fire? Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
4. More contempt! This time, the federal courts. The Obama administration (specifically the Department of the Interior, run by Secretary Ken Salazar) was held in contempt by a federal court for its imposition of a moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, in direct violation of an earlier court order. Judge Martin Feldman’s language was strong, referring to the Department’s conduct as “determined disregard,” “dismissive” and “defiant.” And yet even the New York Times admitted that “the decision did not get huge media attention.”
Nor has the president himself been any more solicitous of the United States Supreme Court. In an appalling lack of courtesy, Obama lashed out at the Supreme Court regarding their decision in Citizens United in his 2010 State of the Union address -- with the justices sitting there. He later issued what many considered another unprofessional and un-presidential confrontation with the high court during their deliberations over the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
5. We don’t need no stinkin’ recess. Obama does not see himself restrained by congressional process or protocols, either. He declared himself capable of determining when the Senate is in “recess,” -- despite the Senate’s own position that it was not -- and made a series of what he characterized as “recess appointments” which not one, but two federal courts have now struck down. Media coverage called those court decisions “radical” and attributed the decisions to “Republican appointees.” (One of the best articles exposing the media’s double-standard and hypocrisy on this issue was done by Damon Root, managing editor of Reason magazine. The New York Times quotes he cites are priceless and unintentionally hilarious.)
6. Benghazi. Surely in a class by itself: lies from the very beginning. Scapegoating an American citizen -- in front of the entire world. Putting the man in prison over an embarrassingly bad video nobody saw, to cover up for their own failures, their dereliction of duty, and who-knows-what-else. And yet a press that 40 years ago hounded a president out of office over a bungled burglary seems remarkably blasé about an attack in which four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed. With very few exceptions (Jake Tapper, Eli Lake, Sharyl Attkisson), the MSM for months largely took what the White House and the State Department said at face value. Fearing the potential impact of the scandal on the November 2012 election, they covered for Obama, even (thank you, Candy Crowley) going so far as to misquote him in the second presidential debate, with millions of Americans watching.
They praised former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose histronic performance and infamous response to congressional query (“What difference, now, does it make?”) was largely facilitated by her own delay in appearing. How (“Benghazi was a long time ago”) convenient for Clinton, another progressive media darling, who is considering a 2016 run for president.
And this is without mentioning President Obama’s distortions about his actual policies, both domestic ("shovel-ready jobs"; "If you like your health care coverage, you can keep it.") and foreign (a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria).
It should be easy to connect the dots. This is a president who revealed an appalling ignorance (or disregard) of the limits deliberately imposed by the Constitution, years before he was ever elected. The media knows this; they don’t want to connect the dots. Or, more accurately, they don’t want the American public to connect the dots.
President Obama and his entire administration know all too well that they can do what they want with relative impunity. (In fact, the White House is so accustomed to media deference that they become indignant and enraged if any reporters dare to do their jobs, as CBS reporter Sharyl Attkisson and others have discovered.) Disproportionate numbers of the media view Obama as a fellow traveller; their dream-come-true of a progressive president. In truth, Obama is the apotheosis of "progressivism." He views his objectives for the United States as so inherently superior to the current state of affairs that few of the rules which form the underpinnings of our government can -- or, indeed, should -- constrain him.
All of this has translated to an administration ideologically predisposed to ignore the Constitution, and unconstrained by the fear of any blowback from the press. Obama and those appointed by him feel free to disregard the United States Constitution, the separation of powers contained therein, the principles of checks and balances, and the ideas of the limits on the powers of the individual branches of government. Those are nothing more than impediments to their lofty goals, which therefore can be disregarded. Obama knows that not only will the media not call him out, they will do the heavy lifting of distracting the public by demonizing anyone who dares to ask the hard and pointed questions that the media themselves have -- with few exceptions, and until very recently -- refused to ask. Meanwhile, Obama floats above the fray.
The press has fancied Obama to be so enlightened -- and they themselves to be so invaluable to him -- that the Constitution is now merely a vestigial anachronism; an unnecessary throwback to a less “progressive” time. And so they have ignored their own hypocrisy and selective outrage (directed largely at Republican candidates and administrations). They have sneered and looked down their noses at other Americans who have balked at this administration’s attacks upon their First Amendment rights of religious freedom. They have demonized law-abiding Americans who refuse to back down on their Second Amendment right to own weapons.
But as the media are now discovering, there is dangerous precedent in this view of “progress.” In fact, this is among the fatal flaws of “progressivism” generally. The human craving for power and governments’ tendencies toward tyranny are remarkably consistent; regrettably, history has shown that we don’t “progress” out of them. Limits on the powers of our government enshrined in the United States Constitution are the only things that keep the government in check and the people free.
This is why conservatives defend small government and oppose (for example) Obamacare. It is not because we do not want our fellow citizens to have access to quality health care; it is because a government which has complete control over health care -- or any other “good” -- can also use political power to withhold it. The IRS scandal proves this beyond a shadow of a doubt.
This is why conservatives defend the Second Amendment. It is not just for hunting and recreation, but because a government which shows such disdain for the First, or Fourth, or Seventh, or Eight amendments requires the Second Amendment to keep its powers in check.
Finally, this is why our country depends upon a robust press which sees itself as a bulwark against the potential oppression of any and all political parties -- not the public relations arm of the politicians they happen to like. Our media for years have selectively ignored abuses of political power, and we are now reaping what they have sown.
Laura Hollis is an Associate Professional Specialist and Concurrent Associate Professor of Law at the University of Notre Dame, where she teaches entrepreneurship and business law. She is the author of the forthcoming publication, “Start Up, Screw Up, Scale Up: What Government Can Learn From the Best Entrepreneurs,” © 2014. Her opinions are her own, and do not reflect the position of the university. Follow her on Twitter: @LauraHollis61.