Reaping the Whirlwind of a Demonizing Presidency

Carol Platt Liebau
Posted: May 13, 2013 7:13 PM

During the Clinton scandals of the '90's, I learned about a whole new model of promoting corruption -- through example and indirection.  Most dramatically, I remember realizing that Bill Clinton had, indeed, urged those who worked under him to lie . . . just not explicitly.  In other words, he had never said to Betty Currie or anyone else, "Please lie." But it was clear that it's what he wanted -- and needed -- them to do.

Somewhat less directly, it strikes me that the abuses committed by the IRS are pieces of the same set of cloth.  Most everyone working under a leader has a pretty good idea of the kinds of actions that are permitted, welcomed, tolerated or encouraged -- if not explicitly, through a wink and a smile and non-discouragement.  To put it in terms that the perpetually-aggrieved on the left can understand, it's like a boss tolerating a hostile workplace, not by actively harassing women himself, but by condoning that behavior by other employees, turning a blind eye to it, and subtly communicating through his own words and actions that all the EEOC signs and the rest aren't really to be taken seriously.

President Obama has pretty much treated the truth -- and in some sense the Constitution -- a little bit like that boss with the EEOC signs.  It's all there for show.  But clearly, through "jokes" and winks and nods and tolerating hitherto out-of-bounds behavior committed on his behalf, he signalled to potential partisan freelancers that little was really beyond the pale.

Last year, Kim Strassel wrote about thecase of Romney donor Frank VanderSloot, who was the recipient of a fiercely intrusive audit after he became a Romney contributor:

Did Mr. Obama pick up the phone and order the screws put to Mr. VanderSloot? Or—more likely—did a pro-Obama appointee or political hire or career staffer see that the boss had an issue with this donor, and decide to do the president an unasked-for election favor? Or did he or she simply think this was a duty, given that the president had declared Mr. VanderSloot and fellow donors "less than reputable"?

Around the same time, The New Times reported on Obama targeting the Koch brothers personally in a new ad.  About a month later, as ABC News reported

President Obama’s re-election team is engaging conservative oil magnates Charles and David Koch in a public spat they hope will rouse the Democratic base and draw donations to their campaign.

The back-and-forth began Friday when, in a fund-raising email to supporters, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina accused the billionaire brothers of “jacking up prices at the pump” and bankrolling “Tea Party extremism.”

This was the President's campaign, mind you, run by him.  Similarly, The White House petition site posted and allowed signatures on a petition to pull Rush Limbaugh from Armed Forces Radio.  That's an official web site, financed by your tax dollars.  Only later did it post a reply from the Department of Defense politely declining to remove Limbaugh.

Then there's what the Obama campaign did to Romney.  Here's an excerpt from John Harris on Politico (yes, Politico! No friend to the GOP) who wrote:

With a few exceptions, Romney has maintained that Obama is a bad president who has turned to desperate tactics to try to save himself. But Romney has not made the case that Obama is a bad person, nor made a sustained critique of his morality a central feature of his campaign.

Obama, who first sprang to national attention with an appeal to civility, has made these kind of attacks central to his strategy. The argument, by implication from Obama and directly from his surrogates, is not merely that Romney is the wrong choice for president but that there is something fundamentally wrong with him.

 Yeah, like he killed a woman -- a sleazy charge first made by the Obama campaign that the President never repudiated even when it was roundly discredited through an ad run by a Super Pac led by his former staffers.

For the President, it isn't enough to encourage people to disagree with his opponents -- they have to hate them.  And he is willing, himself, to demonize his opponents openly and personally -- to an extent we've never seen by a President -- if that's what it takes to get the job done.  It's behavior that cheapens the office he holds, and no one should really be astonished that it elicits the kind of illegal and ugly behavior we're discovering.  If the President is as smart as we've all been told he is, surely he knows that hiself. 

Given the highly personal, take-no-prisoners vibe emanating from the top,is anyone really surprised that the IRS office that targeted conservatives also leaked confidential information in its files on them?  Or that the IRS stole a form listing donors to the National Organization for Marriage and leaked it to the Human Rights Campaign when the debate over gay marriage was in full force?

At the time a lot of this stuff was going on, I deplored "The Official Obama Attack Machine."  But the press just never seemed interested in connecting the dots.  Now, perhaps, the AP understands the widespread sense that this administration has stretched all sorts of boundaries of behavior -- and not in a good way.

With the IRS, AP and Benghazi stories cresting simultaneously, how can any American be confident this administration is serving the public interest fully, truthfully and impartially?  Last night, Obama denounced Rush Limbaugh (again!) and charged that Republicans were making Americans feel "cynical about government."

Ha.  As if they needed to.  His own administration is already doing a pretty good job with that.