This has been one of, if not the single worst week the Obama administration has faced. And it’s only Wednesday in the States.
The perfect shitstorm of events are:
- the resurfacing of noisy claims from the right that the administration covered up, or outright lied, about events relating to the attack on their embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11 last year;
- the revelation that the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) had cherry picked conservative political organisations who oppose Obama for extra scrutiny before granting their tax exempt status as a nonprofit organisation. Groups with names that contained ‘patriot’ or ‘tea party’ were specifically screened;
- the Department of Justice has just admitted to secretly obtaining phone records of Associated Press reporters during April and May last year without a warrant. The AP are mighty pissed about this and have asked for an explanation for the “massive and unprecedented intrusion”.
The timing of these three items has delivered a jab, right cross and uppercut to the Obama administration in roughly the eighth round of their Whitehouse match. Even Jon Stewart’s unhappy. We kiwis saw what a media scandal can do to a politician this week in stark terms. It will be interesting to see what how the Whitehouse navigates the next few weeks of murky waters.
The ‘jab’ of a Benghazi cover up seemed for a long while to be a fringe conspiracy held by the same sorts of people who believe Obama was born in Kenya to a communist father and raised solely to take the American citizenry’s guns away.. It briefly caught a gust of relevance as Gregory Hicks, the second highest ranking official in the American embassy in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, gave his testimony to Congress questioning the ‘spontaneity’ of the attacks.
Ultimately, I’d wager this resolving in a report showing the administration made an incorrect initial assessment of the situation: that it was an uprising fuelled by an anti-Islamic video released just prior to the attack. They already admit diplomat Susan Rice was wrong when she gave this assessment just after the event. Obama maintains this is a political circus and nothing much more, and I tend to believe him. The political damage done by the perception and the public conversation though, has been very real indeed.
The IRS’s selective screening of right-wing groups is a very different kettle of marlin. The Department has already admitted to it, there’s no denying something very wrong has gone down. The USA has a rather renowned history of abuse of the tax system. JFK deployed them against the right, Nixon used it against his hippy critics, the FBI used to try and disrupt Martin Luther King Jnr, and on and on. Hell, even George W. tried to use the IRS against a church, to take away their tax exempt status. Obama has so far condemned the actions in fairly strong terms and as yet, there is no evidence of any link to or direction from the White House. Even if there is none, it’s a terrible public perception by association, but if the administration is somehow linked – this could easily turn into Obama’s largest downfall and a lasting legacy of his double term in office.
Then finally, just as Barrack collapsed on the couch from a press conference to give his assurances that all Government departments are expected to act equitably toward organisations leaning left or right, he would’ve flicked on the news of the DOJ spying on reporters.
I can only imagine a spit take of red wine all over some lush white rug resulting. This one’s a biggie. The constitutionally enshrined protections of the press are rightly taken extremely seriously in The States. The DOJ appear to have very clearly broken their own guidelines which dictate spying on journalists can only be performed when it is ‘critical to’ an investigation. That’s going to be an incredibly high bar to meet in the coming weeks. In fact, bearing in mind that the DOJ’s own regulations require journalist’s phone records to be “as narrowly drawn as possible’’ and the fact that they tapped 20 lines for two months – it would be akin to seeing Gerry Brownlee perform a Tux Wonder dog height bound in parliament.
But Obama’s time is almost over anyway, he is now carrying out his final term. This week’s three issues affect two important things – how much will they diminish his ability to change policy? And how much will this stick to Hillary Clinton as she starts her path toward 2016 election? Only time will tell.