Recently, there has been an interesting string of editorials in the Washington Post.
(I’ll limit this to the discussion of unsigned editorials, not op-eds.)
— James Taranto (@jamestaranto) May 20, 2013
On May 17, the editors hoped, IRS shake up had better be thorough:
As for motivations, IRS officials have insisted that the agency saw a big influx of applications beginning in 2010 and that its targeting was just an inappropriate shortcut to sort through them. Yet an IRS letter to the inspector general also cited pressure from “the public, media, watchdog groups and members of Congress” to investigate specific 501(c)(4) groups as a factor in its decision making. Does that mean political pressure might also have influenced IRS staff?
Regardless of the origins of the policy, the result for conservative organizations was a hellishly long application process — months, even years. Some were lucky enough only to have to wait. Others had to answer invasive and unnecessary questions about the political affiliations of officers or the activities of those in event audiences. It’s little surprise that since 2009 many more groups with “progressive” in their titles obtained nonprofit status than those with “tea party” in their names.
At seemingly every level in the IRS, leadership failed. After senior managers found out about the targeting, why didn’t they demand that any more changes to the criteria used to sort out applications require their approval? Instead, lower-level staffers were able to revert to targeting after they had been told to stop.
(As for political pressure, read Hot Air.)
On May 18, the editors acknowledged Justice didn’t follow its own rules in AP case:
Alas, that law did not pass, and there’s little prospect that it will anytime soon. So Mr. Obama’s support for it is at best cold comfort and at worst a transparent diversion. The issue remains what Justice did and whether it was consistent with existing legal authority — which consists of the First Amendment and a long-standing department policy designed to prevent violations of it.
That policy clearly says that federal prosecutors will give press organizations prior notice of pending phone-record subpoenas unless doing so would pose a “clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.” Generally, that has been taken to mean a threat that records would be destroyed, but no such threat has been suggested in this case — and none seems likely to have existed, given the fact that the service providers, not the AP itself, had possession of the records.
In a letter to the AP, Deputy Attorney General James Cole invoked the “substantial threat” exception, but he offered no specifics to back it up. He did note that the department had exhausted alternative means of fact-gathering, as its rules require, and alluded to the serious harm done by the alleged leak. Neither amounts to a reason for what appears to be a pretty stark departure from, if not a violation of, the Justice Department’s own rules.
Even with these two editorials, each showing malfeasance (if not corruption) on the part of two executive branch departments, the editors had already written Obama a new Nixon? Oh, get serious. (Granted, malfeasance isn’t impeachable. Both the Treasury and Justice departments both overreached their constitutional authority, but that didn’t prompt any thoughts that the problem could have come from the top. Here’s how the editorial summed up the scandals:
(1) The Benghazi talking points scandal is no scandal whatsoever. The government failed to anticipate the attack on Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and to protect him and those who died alongside him, but there was no coverup of the failure and no conspiracy to deceive the American people about what had happened.
(2) The broad search of telephone records from the Associated Press in search of a government leaker seems, on all available evidence, to have been a dangerous and unjustified violation of normal Justice Department practice, under which Justice should have negotiated with the AP to narrow the search as far as possible. The administration has yet to offer any justification for this violation. There’s no reason to believe that Mr. Obama knew anything about it, and it’s worth recalling that Republicans clamored for the investigation in the first place. But the president’s unwillingness to condemn it is sadly consistent with his administration’s record of damaging the First Amendment in its ill-advised pursuit of leakers.
(3) The IRS targeting conservative opponents of Mr. Obama for special scrutiny is horrifying and inexcusable. We still don’t have a full picture of how the practice originated, how high in the administration knowledge of it rose and how members of Congress came to be repeatedly misinformed on the subject. But there is so far no evidence of White House knowledge or instigation of the practice.
According to the Post, that’s one case of incompetence and two cases of abuse of power.
(Roger L. Simon shows how Benghazi was more than just incompetence.)
But there’s a fourth editorial, worth noting, Kathleen Sebelius dances on an ethical line:
So far, HHS says it has asked only two entities to donate money — the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and tax firm H&R Block — and neither company is regulated by the agency.
But Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) says that Ms. Sebelius has violated the principle that Congress is the body empowered to establish funding levels for the government’s activities and that no administration can short-circuit that process by soliciting and directing donations for things it deems important. In a letter to Ms. Sebelius, he argues that her actions “may violate federal appropriations laws,” and he demands information on how much HHS has coordinated with Enroll America.
The legal question is still murky. The ethical one is less so. The Post’s Sarah Kliff, who broke the story, reports that at least one official in the health-care industry feltpressure to give money and other forms of support to Enroll America. Given that HHS directly controls the markets in which the insurers operate, we would hardly blame them for reading a lot, even too much, into the secretary’s requests and feeling nervous about them. But even if they didn’t, it would have been easy to expect donations to curry favor with Ms. Sebelius.
In order to make the impossibility called ObamaCare work, Sebelius solicited funds outside of her department’s mandate. Depending on how one views Benghazi, this is the third (or fourth) overreach by a cabinet level department. Are these overreaches isolated occurrences or are they part of a pattern?
I believe it is a pattern. Recently, James Taranto explained the mindset that would lead these excesses.
Moral authority entails a moral hazard: the temptation to abuse political and cultural power. Today’s liberal left conceives of itself as being on the side of all that is good, right and reasonable. It caricatures the right as racist, extremist, greedy, dishonest, fanatically religious, prone to violence–and dangerous because, through the Republican Party, it has maintained parity in the political arena. Of the 10 presidential elections since Watergate, each party won 5; and voters haven’t entrusted the Democrats with full control of government for more than two years since the Carter era.
If ordinary politics are a battle between good and evil, then winning becomes an overriding moral imperative. The end justifies the means: Journalists shade or conceal the truth in the service of a “larger truth.” Government restricts political speech in the name of promoting democracy. Administrative agencies perpetrate injustice in the name of “social justice.” That’s how IRS agents could think it was their patriotic duty to help fix an election for the party in power.
These wrongful actions subvert the institutions with whose stewardship the perpetrators have been entrusted. They also undermine the moral authority of those institutions’ leaders.
President Obama and his allies are so certain of their own civic righteousness they see their goals as justifying any means.
The role of the media in these scandals is also amazing. As James Taranto observed:
The current crisis of authority very much includes the news media, which in significant measure have abdicated their guiding principles of impartiality, objectivity and sometimes even accuracy.
Liberal media bias is an old complaint, but the Obama presidency has given it a new and dangerous form. Never has the prevailing bias of the media been so closely aligned with the ideological aims and political interests of the party in power. The American media remain free and independent, or you would not be reading this column. But to a large extent they have functioned for the past few years as if they were under state control.
They denied that Benghazi was a scandal and accused anyone of making that claim of politicizing a tragedy. They ignored claims of conservative groups that they were being unfairly targeted by the IRS.
— Sissy Willis (@SissyWillis) May 20, 2013
True, now that the election is over some are waking up to the IRS scandal at least. It’s odd that the same folks who believe that democracy is served by having more voters, apparently didn’t think that democracy is served by voters having more information.
And, of course, even now, there are still those who say that administration’s problems are only political.
Look forward to reading tomorrow’s pieces explaining how GOP is overplaying hand by pointing out thatLerner is pleading 5th.
— David Harsanyi (@davidharsanyi) May 21, 2013
Nonpartisan observer Charlie Cook: GOP’s hatred of Obama could lead to overreach and backlash: washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-lin…
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) May 21, 2013
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