Got accountability?

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A few thoughts on the unfolding news regarding Benghazi, the IRS tax scandal, the subpoena of personal and work telephone records for at least 20 of the AP’s reporters and editors, and the seizure of information regarding Fox News correspondent James Rosen.

Cumulatively, they contribute to the impression that this administration lacks accountability to the American people – a tendency I have identified and written about in the past.

Last week, Obama called for tighter security at U.S. diplomatic facilities to prevent an attack like the one that took place September 11 at the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, killing four Americans. This move was long overdue. Obama should have had all U.S. embassies – and most especially those, like Benghazi, against which there had been specific threats – more heavily fortified before the tenth anniversary of September 11th.

At the time, some of us who pointed out the security lapse in the days following that attack were accused of unfairly criticizing the President. But it would appear our critique was, if anything, too mild. (And many of Obama’s supporters tend to react to any criticism as an unjustified attack).  Obama himself, discussing the attack in its aftermath, actually said, “It will not be enough to put more guards in front of an embassy.” As I wrote at the time, that glib statement only underscores his failure to take responsibility for a serious security failure.

That disinclination to accept accountability has emerged in other contexts in recent days, including with the IRS tax scandal. Did Obama have a clue that conservative-leaning groups were being targeted for extra scrutiny in assessing charitable tax exempt status in the days preceding the last Presidential election? And if he had no clue, although less serious, that in itself is concerning. The directive had to come from someone in the administration who felt that selecting out only right-leaning Americans for increased scrutiny with regard to tax issues, was  justifiable. Although at present no proof exists that Obama knew about it, it seems consistent with a larger pattern on the part of this President to claim that he had no knowledge and bears no responsibility for a mistake.

President Obama, as a former law professor, no doubt fully understands that upholding civil liberties means also respecting those whose views are divergent from his. But I’m not sure how well many of his supporters and those who take direction from him understand that. And if he authorized the use of IRS personnel in singling out groups for increased government scrutiny  based on political ideology alone, that is a serious matter.

Here’s a thought experiment. Imagine that, in the runup to the 2004 election, George Bush authorized the IRS to give special scrutiny to left-wing political groups seeking charitable exempt status, and erect barriers to their obtaining this status, making them jump through extra hoops, but authorized no similar scrutiny of right-leaning groups? The media and the people would be screaming bloody murder – with justification.

At issue is allegedly using the institutions of government to promote the freedoms and entitlements of some Americans and not of others – based on whether they support you politically. To knowingly do so is the stuff of dictatorship.

It also smacks of extreme political partisanship and the demonizing of the Tea Party  – another subject I’ve written about.

On the AP scandal, while it does smell like an overreach, the caveat is national security. It is no surprise to anyone who has followed Obama’s national security policies – from keeping open Guantanamo, to rendition, to his increase of the use of drones and assassination-without-trial of bin Laden –  that when it comes to fighting terrorism he is no civil libertarian. (He demonized Bush for use of the same tactics). If indeed it can be proven that the AP reporter who leaked the information knew he/she was dealing with classified info, that could be a problem. I am pretty close to absolutist on press freedom but this is one of the few exceptions (you also can’t knowingly slander someone or yell fire in a crowded theater). In these narrow areas, despite our First Amendment, the press must regulate itself or be subject to limited government oversight. Then again, why fully 20 reporters’ records had to be seized is unclear, and smacks of excess and abuse of power. Nor is it clear why the Obama administration tracked the movements of Fox News correspondent James Rosen, and is otherwise investigating him, for working with a source in the State Department. (That’s one of the things Washington correspondents do). A heavy burden of proof should be on the Obama administration to demonstrate reporters are indeed knowingly trafficking in classified information that could damage national security before journalists are harassed or, heaven forbid, prosecuted for doing their jobs.

This entry was written by and posted on May 19, 2013 at 6:21 pm and filed under Blog.