President Barack Obama in December. AP Photo
Updated: July 26, 2013 6:20AM
If he doesn’t make a course correction, President Barack Obama is on track to go down in history as presiding over a government marked by hostility to free speech, the press, dissent and privacy.
Obama’s die-hard defenders poo-poo the scandals swirling about the administration as much to do about very little. But the evidence is piling up that they have damaged our democratic system and are undermining trust in the administration, especially damaging in the all-important and fundamental national security responsibility of government.
The Internal Revenue Service’s intimidation of taxpayers is hardly a trivial matter — whether the result of a conspiracy or an in-bred liberal bias in the permanent government of regulators. All Americans, no matter their political stripe, should be alarmed by the IRS targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups by holding up their tax-exempt status, asking intrusive questions to the extreme or inquiring about the content of a pro-life organization’s prayers, and harassing their donors.
Common sense tells you that would affect the political will and impact of these conservative groups, stifling their dissent. Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute reported on the RealClearMarkets website about research he did with other economists from Harvard and Stockholm universities about the effectiveness of Tea Party groups in the 2010 off-year elections. Then they delivered to the Obama administration, as the president put it, a “shellacking.” The research indicated that had the groups been as effective in 2012, they might have brought Mitt Romney enough votes to overcome Obama’s margin of victory.
Yes, that’s speculation, but Veuger rightly asserts, “We may never know to what exact extent the federal government diverted votes from Governor Romney and thus, how much it influenced the course” of the election.
IRS officials responded to congressional questions with evasive and disingenuous answers and in one case refused to testify. FBI Director Robert Mueller showed up at a Capitol Hill hearing and could not say who was leading the investigation of the IRS or how many agents were working on it. Does any of this meet the notion of a responsive government?
The Justice Department’s secret seizure of AP phone records and attempt to label a Fox News journalist a criminal are cited by numerous journalists as a “chilling” effect on the press and investigative reporting. New Yorker national security writer Jane Mayer went further, telling the New Republic that “it’s more like freezing the whole process into a standstill.” Attorney General Eric Holder is notably unapologetic about Justice’s excesses.
New suspicions about government arose with the leaking of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program. Like many, I see this as a vital defense against terrorism and not a violation of Fourth Amendment privacy rights. But given the IRS and Justice scandals, it’s not surprising that a Rasmussen poll finds 57 percent of voters believe it is likely the NSA data will be used by other government agencies to harass political opponents.
The NSA uproar raises legitimate concerns about the administration’s obsession with secrecy. It has prosecuted more leak cases than any other administration. A McClatchy Newspapers report disclosed an Obama secrecy initiative it calls “unprecedented” and “sweeping.” The “Insider Threat Program” cracks down on unauthorized disclosure of any information, not just classified material, not only from defense bureaucracies but from agencies as varied as the Peace Corps and the Education and Agriculture departments.
Ours is a system of rule by “consent of the governed.” Government under Obama seems out of touch with that concept.