The Obama Scandals

Stop Calling Obama Aloof!

The president’s critics say he’s too detached. Paul Begala explores this ridiculous line of reasoning.

Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

So the Beltway media (of which I am a card-carrying member) has decided President Obama is too aloof. And as a card-carrying member, I, of course, agree.

I mean, how could a president not know the level of scrutiny the Cincinnati branch of the IRS was applying to conservative social-welfare organizations that sought tax-exempt status under Section 501c(4) of the Internal Revenue Act? How detached. How arrogant. How disengaged.

Believe me, George Washington knew exactly what the Tea Party was doing back in his day, and even though Cincinnati was just being settled as Washington became president, you can be sure the Father of Our Country knew what the Cincinnati branch of the IRS was up to.

And don’t get me started on the Associated Press subpoenas. A year ago, 31 congressional Republicans sent a letter to President Obama demanding a tough, unsparing investigation. The GOP lambasted the president for being too aloof and casual about leaks that endanger national security. “Where is the outrage in this administration?” Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker asked. “Where is there any indication that within the Obama administration officials are outraged at the criminal leaks of classified information that put our agents and our friends at risk?” And so, the Obama administration went bananas, firing off subpoenas for the phone records of Associated Press reporters. Amazingly, President Obama was too aloof to know. This is aloofness (aloofosity? alooficity?) of an extraordinary nature. It’s not easy to both be too detached to investigate leaks and then also be too detached to care about an overzealous investigation of those leaks. But our president pulled it off.

This much we know: Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan. The Gipper wasn’t aloof and detached, no siree. The fact that he called his Housing Secretary “Mr. Mayor”—that showed he was engaged in what the American people cared about, not Washington arcana like the names of the people he had appointed to his cabinet. Of course, the Gipper was also so deeply and properly engaged that he had to say he did not recall no fewer than 124 times in eight hours of testimony on the Iran-Contra affair.

Barack Obama is also far more aloof and disengaged than George W. Bush. Bush and his vice president, Darth Vader, were veritable paragons of engagement. That’s how their aides ended up leaking the identity of an undercover CIA operative. President Bush and Vice President Strangelove were so busy supervising the conduct of the IRS that they didn’t know what Karl Rove and Scooter Libby were up to. Of course, back then the IRS was accused of unfairly scrutinizing the NAACP, but you can bet your life President Bush and Vice President Goldfinger were knee-deep in the operation of the IRS’s Cincinnati branch. You betcha.

And, of course, when the Bush administration subpoenaed the phone records of journalists, that was a very different thing. I mean, Bush could not have been disengaged from the press. He gave reporters nicknames, for goodness sake. Anyone who calls two different reporters “Stretch” is clearly deeply engaged in the cause of press freedom.

And take Benghazi, the site of an American diplomatic facility in ... quick, what country? Syria? Iraq? Afghanistan? No ... don’t tell me. Oh, right Lebanon. Grrrr. Google says it’s actually in Libya. (According to Public Policy Polling (PDF), 41 percent of Republicans—as well as 10 percent of Democrats and 20 percent of Independents—think Benghazi is “the biggest political scandal in American history.” Of the people who feel this way, 39 percent don’t know where Benghazi is located. Perhaps they think it is an arthritis cream.) Well, Libya is a place with which George W. Bush was not at all aloof. He was the first American president to phone Libyan madman and terrorist-sponsor Muammar Gaddafi, and he sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to meet personally with Gaddafi. Obama met with Gaddafi as well. And he later ordered airstrikes on Gaddafi’s regime that turned the tide in the Libyan civil war and drove him from power. But after Gaddafi was deposed, Obama’s aloofness allowed terrorists to attack our people in Benghazi. Four American patriots were murdered. Reagan would have never allowed that. Sure, under Reagan, 241 heroic Marines were killed by a terrorist suicide bomb in Beirut. But that’s not because Reagan was asleep at the switch. Under the rules of engagement, that Marine barracks was heavily fortified—by Marines who were prohibited from carrying loaded weapons.

But let’s get back to Obama’s aloof arrogance. Or is it his arrogant aloofness? Either way, congressional Republicans were practically forced to reduce Obama’s requested funding for embassy security. If only Obama had played golf with the GOP more, or had them over for more dinners—maybe read them a story like The Pet Goat. Then they would have approved Obama’s full funding for embassy security. So, you see, it all comes down to President Obama’s aloofness.

All sarcasm aside, I am furious and heartsick at the murders of brave Americans in Benghazi. I am appalled by the notion of groups being scrutinized by the IRS for their ideological views. I am deeply troubled when journalists are subpoenaed. These are, truthfully, important topics for legitimate, critical press and congressional scrutiny. But that scrutiny is shortchanged when, instead of digging into policy errors or personnel mistakes, Beltway big shots make sweeping, stupid, personal attacks on President Obama. It’s not that our president is too arrogant. It’s that our debate is too ignorant.