PITY PARTY: Phony Scandals and Arrogant Attitudes

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., August 6, 2013 – President Obama and Press Secretary Carney recently dismissed any purported White House “scandals” as “phony.” This set off a firestorm response within the Republican Party, which has been preoccupied with identifying “Obama’s Watergate.” This gives rise to several legitimate questions that deserve to be explored. What constitutes a scandal? Why has the concept become such a fixation among the Parties and pundits? Is there substantive or circumstantial evidence of a scandal (or scandals) attributable to the current Administration? How can both Parties improve from the current environment?

To begin this assessment, let’s look to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary for some guidance with respect to the definition of “scandal.”  The most relevant definition is: “a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it.”  “Propriety,” in turn, is defined as “conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech” and “moral” is defined as “conformity to a standard of right behavior.” (Messrs. Filner, Spitzer, and Weiner need not read further.)

So, we’re looking for action (or inaction) on the party of the President or his Administration that “offends conformity to what is socially acceptable in conduct or speech or the established standard of right behavior or that which disgraces those associated with it.”

Not to be sarcastic, but if that were held to be the standard, most political behavior would be scandalous.

Therefore, we must explore why the Republican Party seems to be so fixated with identifying a scandal involving the President directly or that may be attributed to him indirectly through his leadership and guidance (or lack thereof).

Here’s a starting point for that discussion: the Republicans are upset that they lost the “trophy” known as the Presidency in 2008 and again in 2012. The actual Office bears little resemblance to what is prescribed under Article II of the Constitution. Instead, it has become the ultimate platform from which to pay back political debts (via appointments) and something akin to a “talking stick” in the Native American tradition.

Case in point: approximately 80 percent of senior White House appointments and 50 percent of the Ambassadorships in the current Administration have gone to individuals who bundled $500 thousand or more for the Party during the Presidential election cycle. Additionally, the position commands the attention of the media and the world but, in the last few Administrations, has served more as a delivery mechanism for the Party as opposed to the individual who holds the Office. If you disagree, check the White House log to see what the President does with his time. It is dominated by speeches, fundraisers, social events, and campaigning on behalf of other Party candidates.

The Republicans want to get the power of the Presidency back so that they can exploit it in the exact same way. Perhaps there really is a scandal in Washington, D.C. It just may not be among the ones that are being highlighted.

The Republicans could be developing alternative solutions that are superior to those that have been offered by the Democrats (it wouldn’t take much). However, it apparently is easier to inflame emotion by claiming that every failure and poor decision of the Administration is tied to evil intent rather than the ineptness of a team that is woefully lacking in real-world experience (note: fundraising does not constitute real-world experience). Besides, inflamed emotions often lead to campaign donations and uninformed votes.

It is conceivable that this Republican fascination with scandals is linked to the Party’s last real success: George W. Bush’s victory on the heels of the impeachment proceedings against William Jefferson Clinton.

Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution states: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.” President Clinton faced two charges of perjury: one based upon his alleged false testimony in his civil deposition, and one based upon his alleged false testimony in a criminal Grand Jury hearing. The House decided that perjury in a civil matter does not give rise to sufficient concern and voted in favor of impeachment only upon the alleged criminal perjury and obstruction of justice.

While most Senators ostensibly agreed that President Clinton lied under oath and tried to influence the testimony of other witnesses, the Senate acquitted him of perjury and obstruction of justice because it did not believe his behavior “threatened the Republic.” Still, his actions had stained the Office and provided the Republicans with a basis for their next campaign: George W. Bush is not Bill Clinton.

Eight years later, the Democrats seized the day and ran a campaign that was essentially founded upon the premise that Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. In 2012, they created a nuance: Mitt Romney is George W. Bush.

In the interim 12 years, neither Party bothered to frame specific, actionable plans to move our Nation forward. Again, it’s easier to vilify the opposing Party and to make empty promises than it is to identify problems and define solutions to them.

While this may explain the Republican Party’s tendency to attach the “scandal” label to a wide variety of political faux pas, we should also assess the Administration’s assertion that all such claims are “phony.”

The dictionary specifies that something is “phony” if it “is not genuine or real (and) is intended to deceive or mislead.” Where can one even begin with respect to applying this standard to either Party or, more specifically, to the current Administration? To paraphrase Forrest Gump: “Phony is as phony does.”

Let’s explore another word before we continue: “integrity.”

“Integrity” is defined as the “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; incorruptibility.” While “political integrity” had nearly become an oxymoron by 2008, we were promised “Hope and Change” by then-Senator Barack Obama. While the Republican Party has shredded its credibility by affixing the word “scandal” to every issue that has arisen, the Administration has demonstrated a strange detachment from the word “integrity.”

During his 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama made over 500 specific pledges during that campaign. According to PolitiFact, as President, he has delivered on less than 50 percent of them.

Perhaps having learned a lesson, he dramatically scaled back his new campaign promises in 2012. He became a master at lowering expectations while convincing the masses that any ongoing failures or shortfalls that might usually be attributable to an Administration were not his responsibility. However, let’s review a few of the more well-defined promises of the original era of Hope and Change.

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama vowed to “turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington” and pass a bipartisan agenda in Congress. He also pledged to create “the most transparent Presidential Administration ever.”

It is virtually impossible to have a serious discussion about the Obama Administration’s effort to achieve bipartisan accord in Washington, D.C. Generally speaking, one does not build bridges with dynamite. The Administration’s tactics would more accurately be described by the slogan “Hope and Blame.”

It broke from the tradition of respecting the Office by not denigrating the prior Administration. Instead, the Obama Administration aggressively blamed the Bush Administration for nearly everything during the initial years of its first term.

This is not to dismiss the contributory negligence of the Bush Administration, which had failed miserably (particularly during its second term). It had earned criticism even if protocol called for professional restraint. However, experienced leaders know that they cannot accept the authority of their positions without embracing the responsibility that goes with it.

For example: President Bush accepted the fact that it was his responsibility to deal with a recession that was emerging as he took office, which was exacerbated when the Internet Bubble burst a few months after his inauguration. Then, the attacks on 9/11 occurred and further decimated the economy followed closely by the debacles of Enron, WorldCom, etc. that had been building long before President Bush was ever sworn into office. It’s difficult to suggest that the Bush Administration wasn’t dealt a difficult hand to play, yet it is difficult to recall any ongoing condemnation of the Clinton Administration.

When the “blame Bush” narrative began to wear thin, the Obama Administration’s attack shifted to the TEA Party and Republicans. Not surprisingly, this litany of blame did little to “turn the page on the ugly partisanship in Washington” or pass a bipartisan agenda in Congress. Instead, the two sides became entrenched in an obnoxious display of Party politics.

Now, let’s examine the promise of “transparency.”  That story doesn’t begin well either.

On the campaign trail, then-Senator Obama promised that lobbyists would not become members of his Administration. Once elected, an extensive number of exceptions were made.

We were also promised that lobbyists would no longer be welcomed in the White House and its visitors’ log would be released to prove that this rule was being enforced. The log worked, but the concept didn’t as the meetings were moved to a coffee shop across the street.

Then, consider the seemingly endless stream of what the Republicans characterize as “scandals:”

  • The President’s propensity to unilaterally decide what laws should be enforced by the Department of Justice (e.g., immigration, DOMA, etc.);
  • The Administration’s participation in crony capitalism (Solyndra, et al.);
  • Its inability to curb abuses of power (e.g., IRS, DOJ, etc.) or profligate spending by its Departments and Agencies (e.g., GSA, VA, etc.); and
  • Its tolerance of potential violations of Constitutional rights (i.e., the questionable use of subpoena power to investigate the AP and other members of the Press, the NSA’s capturing of private information without probable cause, etc.).

Add the Embassy attack in Benghazi and the tragic end to “Fast and Furious,” and you have a continuing course of conduct that might actually encourage witch hunts.

Next, consider the Administration’s response to the investigations that corresponded to these incidents.

Executive Privilege has been invoked on behalf of the Attorney General in an incident in which the White House was purportedly not involved. Misrepresentations have been made by Administration officials under oath, and there is evidence that testimonies have been suppressed. In addition, there isn’t enough ink to list the number of times that information requests have been ignored, stalled or only partially fulfilled. Then again, perhaps the latter is because so much ink has been used to redact the subpoenaed documents. It is difficult to argue that this is the behavior of “the most transparent Presidential Administration in history.”

Before we conclude, let’s define one more word: “truth.”

Along with “integrity,” this word may no longer bear relevance in Washington, D.C., but in the event it does, it is defined to mean “the body of real things, events, and facts; actuality.”

So, without attaching the political hyperbole of “scandal” to any of the following issues, let’s quickly review “the real things, events, and facts” to which the People deserve uncensored and unspun answers.

  • Benghazi: four Americans are dead; it clearly wasn’t a spontaneous demonstration caused by a video; investigations have been impeded by heavily-redacted documentation, etc.; lower-level personnel have been blamed; some procedural changes have been made to prevent a recurrence; almost a year has passed without any meaningful resolution;
  • Fast and Furious: one American is dead (along with an unknown number of Mexicans); the program has been discontinued; investigations have been impeded by heavily redacted documentation, etc.; lower-level personnel have been blamed; some procedural changes have been made to prevent a recurrence; several years have passed without any meaningful resolution;
    IRS: political groups were targeted during an election cycle; investigations have been impeded by heavily redacted documentation, etc.; lower-level personnel have been blamed; some procedural changes have been made to prevent a recurrence; several months have passed without any meaningful resolution;
    Freedom of the Press: communication records of AP and a Fox News reporter were investigated by the Department of Justice on a basis that appears to have been overly broad and, in the case of the reporter, possibly based upon the falsification of an affidavit (signed by the Attorney General); what appear to have been misrepresentations were made under oath (including some by the Attorney General); investigations have been impeded by heavily-redacted documentation, etc.; lower level personnel have been blamed; some procedural changes have been made to prevent a recurrence; several months have passed without any meaningful resolution;
  • Pick the situation of your choice and anticipate: a loss of life or rights, or an abuse of power or funds; investigations will be impeded by heavily redacted documentation; lower-level personnel will be blamed; some procedural changes will be made to prevent a recurrence; time will pass without any meaningful resolution.

Do any of these constitute “scandals” that are likely to result in impeachment (the apparent Republican goal)? No. Should the facts surrounding them be of concern to all citizens? Absolutely.

Let’s dismiss the hysterics around removing the President from Office or forcing him to step down. Nixon’s culpability in Watergate was tied to his direct and indirect influence over the surrogates who authorized, planned, and committed a felony break-in. No such evidence has been presented with respect to the President’s involvement in any of the alleged “scandals” at that level; none whatsoever. The closest known and most disturbing involvement of the President in any of these debacles is tied to what appears to have been his indifference toward what was transpiring in Benghazi on the eve of his trip to Las Vegas for a campaign fundraising event.

Unless new evidence arises that connects the direction or influence of an impeachable event to the President (under the Clinton standard of “threatening the Republic”), the Republican rhetoric needs to stop. Correspondingly, Democrats would be well advised to stop pretending that the issues are not worthy of proper investigations.

The Obama Administration has demonstrated a remarkable ability to tightly control the message it delivers to the public. However, it seems devoid of that capability with respect to managing its internal functions. If the President took an authoritative lead in demonstrating his support for more bipartisan and transparent behavior throughout the Executive Branch, perhaps the Legislative Branch would feel compelled to follow.

In the end, we need to remind our elected officials that this is the United States of America, not the Divided States of America. Let’s start by asking the Republican Party to retire its use of the word “scandal” and by asking the Democratic Party not to arrogantly dismiss otherwise serious issues by labeling them to be “phony.” While we wait for the Republicans to recover from their anger about their loss and the Democrats to rise above gloating over their win, what else can you recommend?


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.

This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.