Naming a special prosecutor would destroy Obama’s presidency, says Michael Tomasky.
Now that we’ve been through the first round of hearings on the IRS matter, it’s apparent that there are a few things Barack Obama should do. Yes, he should move to fire Lois Lerner. I wrote on May 13, the day of the press conference at which he first addressed the matter, that he should vow that some heads would roll. He should also—and this won’t placate the right; far from it, in fact, but so be it—explain to the American people the reasons this controversy is being overblown. But there is one thing that he absolutely must not do, and that is pay the least bit of attention to these calls for a special prosecutor. That will be the end, either literal or metaphorical, of his presidency, because of the ceaseless bad faith of the people trying to elevate this thing to Watergate proportions. Just say no, and say it firmly.
Ousted IRS Chief Steve Miller, left, and former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman arrive on Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Finance Committee. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
In substantive terms, this “scandal” consists of bureaucratic bungling, and apparently really stupid bureaucratic political tone deafness. But a conspiracy organized from the White House? Please. The Treasury Department Inspector General report that came out May 14 said that of the 296 “potential political cases” reviewed up through December 2012, the dispositions were as follows: 108 applications approved, 28 withdrawn, 160 left open for a lengthy period of time, and zero denied. That’s right. Zero. Now, you could say that there’s a problem with those 160, and I wouldn’t deny it. Something was broken, something needs fixed. Everyone acknowledges that. But what sort of conspiracy to silence Tea Party groups ends up denying zero of their applications? It’s an absurd claim.
Now we get to the politics. Darrell Issa claims election-season cover-up. But he knew about the IG probe in the summer of 2012, and then received a letter in July confirming it. So one aspect of this that greatly confuses me is why Issa didn’t go public with his accusations then. His spokesman, whom I emailed over the weekend, told me that it was because Issa kept asking the IG for more information, but the IG didn’t give any. Fair enough. But that still strikes me as an unusual degree of discretion on Issa’s part. He needed to know all the details before going public with something that might have helped his party’s presidential candidate in a pretty big way? If that’s the case, he is an unusual Republican indeed.
It's a hearty competition out there for most insane thing ever written by an educated person (and I understand that some of you might nominate me), but as of last night we have a new, thundering, hands-down winner in Bill Keller of The Times, who actually appears to have written the following words:
Republicans are howling for President Obama to name a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of Tea Party groups. The president should call their bluff.
The president should announce that he has told the Justice Department to appoint an independent investigator with bulldog instincts and bipartisan credibility. The list of candidates could start with Kenneth Starr, who chased down the scandals, real and imagined, of the Clinton presidency.
As an idea, this doesn't rise to the level of deserving a serious parsing. Did Starr's actions in 1998 really suggest to Keller than he can an impartial and reasonable prosecutor? He was so drunk with prosecutorial power that he shouldn't have been allowed to drive.
The dissolution of our civic culture isn’t an easy subject for a journalist to successfully tackle, but in his new book George Packer mostly pulls it off, says Michael Tomasky.
How does a writer tell the story of America since the meltdown? No, not just since the meltdown, but since the unraveling first started, really—since deindustrialization, 50 percent divorce rates, the culture wars, the red-blue split, the era of the Wall Streeter or athlete worth more than some countries; since the evanescence, through these means and countless others, of the old common civic culture?
It’s a big job, and a dangerous one. If the writer’s intent is lamentation for the purpose of awakening his countrymen to the moral precipice on whose edge society teeters, the work product can turn mawkish and sentimental in a hurry. And even sympathetic readers can be forgiven for feeling they’ve heard this before. The writer of such a chronicle sets a very high bar for himself. What separates a work of true moral seriousness from, say, a lachrymose TV news magazine feature about a community’s devastation when the plant pulled up stakes?
George Packer, the New Yorker writer who’s written powerful nonfiction books about the Iraq war and the tribulations of modern liberalism as well as two novels, mostly surpasses that bar in The Unwinding, and sometimes does so magnificently. The unwinding of his title is the dissolution of those old civic bonds, and the steady work and ticket to middle-class security they provided for two or three post-war generations of Americans. The unwound, so to speak, are some citizens he found and spent time with, people from a range of backgrounds and regions who symbolize this American nightmare.
How can people who just a few years ago were defending executive privilege suddenly become such ferocious advocates of presidential transparency? By Michael Tomasky.
It’s pretty rich, isn’t it, to see conservatives, not so long ago such ferocious guardians of presidential prerogative, suddenly acting as if they’d all interned at Common Cause when they were in college and thumping their chests about presidential transparency? I bet we could count on one hand—or more likely, on no hands—the number of conservative commentators who were insisting that the Bush White House should come clean about what Scooter Libby did in relation to the Valerie Plame matter. But now, suddenly, Barack Obama must come clean on all particulars, or he’s, you guessed it, the dreaded Nixon! Of course, Nixon wasn’t always the dreaded Nixon, because to the conservatives of the early 1970s who agreed 110 percent with Tricky Dick’s claims of executive privilege, he was the heroic, stalwart Nixon. It’s only when a Democrat is in, apparently, that democracy itself is on the line.
President Obama faces criticism from the GOP about lack of transparency in his administration. (Pool Photo by Kristoffer Tripplaar)
Democrats and liberals do the same thing to some extent when the situations are reversed, sure. But only to an extent. The ease of movement from sarcophagal stonewalling to high dudgeon is a peculiarly right-wing trait, because it’s the right that started the modern-day sense that you’re either on the team or in the shithouse. You might think in some dark, private space that Benghazi is mostly smoke, but if you’re trying to make your bones as part of the right-wing noise machine, you know to keep those doubts to yourself.
I can name you a number of liberal columnists who thought in 1998 that Bill Clinton had disgraced his office and who wrote absolutely scabrously of him, even calling for his resignation. The late, great Lars Erik Nelson called on Clinton to resign (even while making it clear that he thought that impeaching the president over a lie about sex was loony-bin material). Chris Matthews, now embraced by tout liberalisme, used to gut Clinton on a nightly basis. Frank Rich, then on the Times's op-ed page, wrote vicious things about him—and later about Al Gore, columns that actively helped George W. Bush. I could name many more. They were not excommunicated. But among conservatives, uh-uh. Once you leave the reservation, you’re not invited back.
Months after his state was ravaged by extreme weather, the New Jersey governor is now publicly denying climate change. Expect more of that kind of idiocy as he gears up for 2016.
So now Chris Christie is a climate-change denier. He was at a ceremony Monday, just a few hours before Moore, Oklahoma, got pounded for the sixth time in recent years, doing the sort of thing governors love to do—pounding the ceremonial final nail into the rebuilt boardwalk in Lavallette, New Jersey. A reporter from WNYC/New Jersey Public Radio asked him about her stations’ investigative report on the state’s extreme lack of preparedness for Hurricane Sandy. Should state agencies, he was asked, have made preparations with climate change in mind?
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie addresses a gathering May 16 in Sayreville, New Jersey. He says there has not been proof that Hurricane Sandy was caused by climate change. (Mel Evans/AP)
Well. It wasn’t so long ago that Christie spoke like a rational person on these matters. Campaigning for his first term, he got the endorsements of some environmental groups, like the New Jersey Environmental Federation. In August 2011, just a few months into his term, he said that “climate change is real” and “human activity plays a role in these changes.” As recently as February, Mother Jones was optimistic enough to run a piece speculating that Christie could lead the Republican Party to a sane position on the issue.
Back in February, Christie was still fairly fresh off his post-Sandy Obama hugfest. He didn’t say anything then accepting that climate change was real to him. He said he didn’t have time for such “esoteric” questions and might ponder them later. Well, later has arrived. Something else that has arrived, just a week ago, is the devastating WNYC/NJPR report by Kate Hinds and Andrea Bernstein showing that New Jersey’s preparations for Sandy were a joke compared with New York’s.
That is the question of the day, it seems. I can actually understand people who don't like the guy not believing that the White House counsel knew about the IRS inspector general probe, and even the President's chief of staff, but not the President.
However, as a few former chiefs of staff said in this morning's Wall Street Journal report (admittedly all of them Democrats), this is exactly the kind of thing you don't tell the boss. From the article:
Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel under former President Bill Clinton, said Ms. Ruemmler's office acted correctly in not sharing the information directly with the president.
If she had instead gotten "involved and called people over to the White House for a full briefing to know all the details, you know what we'd be talking about now? We'd be talking about whether she had tried to interfere with the IG's investigation," Mr. Quinn said.
This looks pretty ghastly, no two ways around it. It doesn't matter whether Rosen worked for Fox News or the Daily Worker. This is way out of bounds.
It's made all the worse, if you ask me, when you read Rosen's report, the one that got him in this trouble. It ran in 2009 and was about how North Korea might retaliate in the face of a sanctions vote at the UN. Here's how it opened:
U.S. intelligence officials have warned President Obama and other senior American officials that North Korea intends to respond to the passage of a U.N. Security Council resolution this week -- condemning the communist country for its recent nuclear and ballistic missile tests -- with another nuclear test, FOX News has learned.
What's more, Pyongyang's next nuclear detonation is but one of four planned actions the Central Intelligence Agency has learned, through sources inside North Korea, that the regime of Kim Jong-Il intends to take -- but not announce -- once the Security Council resolution is officially passed, likely on Friday.
Obama has reportedly spoken about ‘going Bulworth.’ Michael Tomasky says that would be a terrible idea—and he has another Hollywood role model in mind for the president.
If ever there was a made-for-Twitter revelation, it was the little nugget in Peter Baker’s New York Times report Wednesday that had an aide saying Obama sometimes pines at the thought of “going Bulworth.” In all the commentary I’ve seen on this, I haven’t yet seen anyone point out that going Bulworth is a pretty stupid idea, because the Warren Beatty character, after enjoying a brief resurgence in the polls, became as I recall sort of a laughingstock (at least, that’s what I thought) and then ended up staging his own assassination at the depths of his self-loathing. No. If we’re going to delve into movieland for analogies, it’s not Bulworth that Obama needs to “go,” but Rambo—on the Republicans, and in a hurry.
The House hearings yesterday on the IRS matter only left the Republicans hungry for more. NBC’s Lisa Myers, who repeatedly proved back in the Clinton era that she had good Republican sources and that she took them at their word, now says the IRS chose to withhold information relating to the current mess until after last year’s election. This is meant, of course, to raise the specter that the White House was in on this, possibly the president himself.
Then we have Benghazi. And beyond that we have, you know, the actual affairs of state. This doesn’t quite qualify as that, since it’s a waste of everyone’s time and everyone knows it, but the House voted yet again to repeal Obamacare. Of course it hopes never to have to vote on background checks. But by cracky, a 38th meaningless vote to repeal the health-care act, let’s do it!
We know now that someone, shall we say, inaccurately described a key Benghazi-related email to Jonathan Karl of ABC. And that Karl didn't represent his findings in a completely transparent way last week. I'm not going to go down deep into the weeds of all the details here. Mediaite did a great job of it in this post yesterday. I encourage you to read it.
I'll just remind you of the context. Remember, Karl's scoop last week, timed to the testimony of the three consular aides, set off an earthquake. It appeared to show that the administration was chiefly concerned with how the State Department would look, and with doctoring the talking points to minimize political damage. That's pretty damning stuff. It's why a number of commentators who had theretofore said Benghazi was nothing was now something. It's why a lot of people said Jay Carney had lied about the talking points.
But now it turns out, beyond argument, that Karl didn't see the emails, and that portions were read to him and were fabricated. Karl put those fabrications inside quote marks. Let's assume for now the most benign explanation of Karl's behavior: He trusted a source, and that source fucked him.
What should he and ABC do? Do you stand by sources who you know lied to you? There are certain circumstances when "burning" a source is considered permissible. Suppose you were a journalist and a source told you someone had committed a felony but that person had not. Do you have to protect that source? No.
The Times' account is this:
E-mails released by the White House on Wednesday revealed a fierce internal jostling over the government’s official talking points in the aftermath of last September’s attack in Benghazi, Libya, not only between the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, but at the highest levels of the C.I.A.
The 100 pages of e-mails showed a disagreement between David H. Petraeus, then the director of the C.I.A., and his deputy, Michael J. Morell, over how much to disclose in the talking points, which were used by Susan E. Rice, the ambassador to the United Nations, in television appearances days after the attack.
The paper goes on to describe the disagreement, which seems to me profoundly unimportant. It was about how much detail go into for a Democratic member of Congress who asked the CIA for guidance about what he should say to the media. Hoop de do. The fate of the nation turns on such question as this? Give me a break.
Washington’s understanding of damage control is all wrong, says Michael Tomasky. To win, you have to be willing to hand the other side a temporary victory.
Did I, as a liberal columnist who called immediately on President Obama to seek Eric Holder’s resignation over the Associated Press scandal, provide aid and comfort to the enemy? First of all, I don’t care—what happened struck me as a serious abuse of power. It’s rather obvious to all of you that I support Obama’s agenda in broad terms, but I sure don’t support what happened with the AP. And second, no, I don’t think I provided them aid and comfort anyway. In fact I think recent history shows beyond a doubt that foot-dragging and avoidance are the true aid-and-comforters; they always, always, always make these things worse. That, not my recommended course of action, is what’s going to give Republicans both fodder and power. Thus my aphorism of the week: trying to contain damage only does more damage.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama delivered remarks at the event, invoking the law enforcement officers who worked to bring the Boston Marathon bombing suspects to justice. (Pool photo by Olivier Douliery )
The president demonstrated that he understood this point with respect to the IRS situation—to Republicans, the most toothsome of the three problems the White House is now trying to manage. Firing the acting IRS commissioner within days was the kind of move Obama hasn’t made often enough while in office. He knows very well how potentially dangerous this issue is for him, but whatever the motivation, good for him for moving so fast and striking an assertive posture.
In contrast, Holder’s two attempts at damage control on Tuesday and Wednesday, his press conference and his testimony to the House, struck a defensive one. At his press conference, he wasn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized, among other lapses. The next day on the Hill, he acknowledged that he did not submit his recusal in writing (it took all of eight seconds for someone on Twitter to produce the relevant legal language showing that such was required), and that he couldn’t remember the date! All Holder’s damage control accomplished was the raising of more questions that will be masticated for days and days.
Here's a good case study in how people get trapped in conventional wisdom that's wrong. I speak of Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman, showcased at TPM this morning because he misled a voter about his position on background checks--like Kelley Ayotte and Jeff Flake, trying to make it sound like he backed them even after he voted against them.
Portman, you'll recall, announced his support for same-sex marriage back in mid-March. Then a poll came out in April showing that he lost a lot of ground among Republicans, going from just 8 percent disapproval to 21 percent. He also gained among Democrats. But what good does that do him?
So he figured well, I went left on gays, but I can't do it on guns, too. That's too much for the voters of Ohio. Right?
Wrong! He dropped in the polls after his gun vote too! Here's the PPP analysis from late April:
The CBO released new deficit projections, and it's down to $645 billion for this fiscal year, about $200 billion lower than earlier estimates. Simpson-Bowles wanted the deficit to be down to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2015. This would be 2.1 percent. Deficit scare-mongers, please go home now, okay?
The incredibly shrinking deficit is due to more tax revenues and more payouts from Fannie and Freddie--you know, conservatives, the entities you wanted to see closed down. But all it really means is the economy is getting better, in spite of the one political party that is trying to sabotage it.
...there's really no need to panic or think that there has to be a grand bargain. What we need are more measures to reduce the cost of health care and more measures to boost economic growth.
You should be aware of this scoop from Jake Tapper of CNN today. The big scoops last week from Jonathan Karl of ABC and Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard about the White House emails that allegedly showed that the White House was trying to cover for the State Department and hang the intel people out to dry? They may have been doctored by someone before they were released.
From CNN's account:
CNN has obtained an e-mail sent by a top aide to President Barack Obama about White House reaction to the deadly attack last September 11 on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, that apparently differs from how sources characterized it to two different media organizations.
The actual e-mail from then-Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes appears to show that whomever leaked it did so in a way that made it appear that the White House was primarily concerned with the State Department's desire to remove references and warnings about specific terrorist groups so as to not bring criticism to the department.
In my world, there’s a breed of person known as a “process liberal.” This is someone—at a foundation, say—who believes in process uber alles. There are lots of different kinds of liberalism, just as there are different kinds of conservatism, and process liberalism has always struck me as rooted in two developments in liberalism that started happening in the early-20th-century: first, the professionalization of the social sciences and what you might call the “idea class”; and second, the establishment in the law of civil liberties, a notion that didn’t really exist per se until around that time (the ACLU was founded in 1920). To this kind of liberalism, when problems and complications arise, there’s a process to look into them, and there are responsible, competent, well-intended people overseeing it. This is a very different liberalism, for example, from people whose beliefs were shaped in the first instance by economics (e.g., me).
Barack Obama is a process liberal. A law and social-science liberal (much more, it has always seemed, than an economics liberal). If he’d never gone into politics, he’d be a law professor, as he was; and, I’m guessing, after a certain number of years, chairman of the board of a major Chicago foundation. And if the CEO of the foundation in question did something wrong and needed to be relieved of his post, Obama would let the process play out, even if it took two years, which, in foundation-world, is about how long these things take.
So now we have this situation involving the Justice Department and the Associated Press, news of which broke last night. DoJ, after presumably subpoenaing phone companies, obtained logs of outgoing calls (numbers called only—there was no wiretapping) made by some AP reporters and editors involved in producing a story that appeared in May 2012 about how a plot by a Yemeni terrorist to bomb an airliner was foiled.
AP actually held the story for a few days at the time at the administration’s request, and then published only when it got the green light. But even so, the administration wanted to know who AP’s source was. And so the subpoena—extremely far-reaching as these things go, and possibly sought in violation of the guidelines governing such action.
On Wednesday's 'Daily Show,' Jon Stewart asked Bill O'Reilly what type of joy he feels when there's a legitimate reason to criticize President Obama. O'Reilly didn't give, but he did say that Stewart pulls his material 'out of your butt.'
Naming a special prosecutor would destroy Obama’s presidency, says Michael Tomasky.