Politics

05.15.13

IRS, DOJ, and Benghazi Expose Limits of Obama’s Big-Government Vision

Obama looks to government as the first solution. It’s in his DNA, writes Stuart Stevens. And now that DNA is producing rogue genes.

“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.” —Sen. Barack Obama, August 28, 2006

All successful political leaders have one or two very simple fundamental beliefs upon which they build both their popularity and their policies.

For Ronald Reagan, it was limited government and more freedom. For Barack Obama, it is the unshakeable conviction that government can and must be a strong and benevolent force in our lives.

Which is precisely why the nature of the cascading scandals of the past week are so damaging to the Obama presidency. Just as Hurricane Katrina shattered what remained of the Bush administration’s image of competence, which had once been a strength of the first M.B.A. president, the Benghazi, IRS, and AP stories are like a multihead missile aimed at Obama’s fundamental belief: that government is good and will make your life better.

For many liberals, including Jon Stewart, these scandals have proven all the wrong people right. Let's review:

—The IRS using unchecked power of government to throttle political dissent.
—The DOJ logging AP reporters’ calls for two months, and, when telling them later that they’d done so, simply saying “trust us,” we had a good reason.
—In Benghazi, the president and his minions exposed in a blatant political strategy to downplay the threat of radical extremists intent on killing Americans after they’ve just succeeded at doing so. Check. 

What does this mean? Well, take the argument against gun registration. When the IRS is advising officials to BOLO (be on the look out) for groups with “patriot” in their names, it's hardly a Red Dawn fantasy to fear the government might abuse gun-registry data. Or take Obamacare. Do you really trust the people who are tapping your phone and auditing your taxes to take over your medical records?

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President Obama condemned the inappropriate IRS action as "outrageous."

Obama's vision of governing is based on a benevolent nanny helping us through our lives. But what happens if the nanny turns out to be Nurse Ratched?

Obama looks to government as the first solution. It's in his DNA. And now that DNA is producing rogue genes. 

How much does this run counter to Obama’s brand? Consider this key passage from his 2004 Democratic convention speech that ignited the rocket ship that took him to the White House:

“That is the true genius of America, a faith in the simple dreams of its people, the insistence on small miracles. That we can say what we think, write what we think, without hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can have an idea and start our own business without paying a bribe or hearing a sudden knock on the door. That we can participate in the political process without fear of retribution.”

Only now there is a knock at the door, a lot of knocks, actually, and it’s the Obama administration that is doing the knocking.

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Reporters raise their hands as White House Press Secretary Jay Carney takes questions during his daily news briefing at the White House on May 14. Carney touched on various topics, including the Justice Department’s seizure of Associated Press phone records. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

It’s hardly a novel observation that Obama has had a unique and powerful hold on the consciousness of a not small slice of American culture. It just so happens that slice contains much of the media in America, who have found the idea of a President Obama an important proof point for much of their belief structure. That he could get elected and then reelected made them feel better about their country. It was important.

This moral satisfaction has made it difficult to view the country and the president’s performance realistically. There is a near blindness to the explosion of poverty during the Obama years, the massive spike in food-stamp recipients (over 16 million more Americans are now on food stamps), the tragedy of the long-term unemployed and underemployed.

Perhaps now this will change. Is it possible to defend the president who is bugging your phone, whose IRS is knocking at the door of political opponents, who still refuses to tell us what he was doing on September 11, 2012, while American were dying under brutal siege?

Barack Obama is an American president, not a hero or icon. Presidents make mistakes. We’ll all be a lot better off if this can start a more realistic assessment of his strengths and weaknesses, his good days and his bad. Anything less is a disservice to the man, to the office, and, most important, to the public.