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I’m not sure how much of this I agree with – somewhere between 60 and 80 percent – but it is very much worth reading and thinking about.

From a post by P.J. O’Rourke, writing for the Weekly Standard (re-posted here in its entirety):

“You’re stupid,” is not something even his most severe critics usually say to President Barack Obama. But on Friday morning I picked up the Wall Street Journal and learned that the president had given a speech about the war on terror saying, “This war, like all wars, must end.”

That story was at the top of the front page. Immediately below was a photograph of flowers being laid at a makeshift memorial near the Woolwich Royal Arsenal where machine gunner Lee Rigby was hacked to death by terrorists.

This war, like all wars, must end when someone wins it. The president—speaking at the National Defense University, of all places—said, “the core of al Qaeda . . . is on the path to defeat.” And so it may be. But meanwhile, the core of al Qaeda, its aims and its beliefs, is also on the path to Boston and London and any number of other places.

On page 7 of Friday’s Journal was the headline, “Suicide Bombings in Niger Linked to Mali Islamist Group.” On page 9 was a report of terrorist Hezbollah militias aiding the terrorist Assad regime in attacking the rebel-held Syrian city of Qusayr where the rebels themselves are allied with yet more Islamic terrorists. And on pages 4 and 8 were more bad tidings from that perpetrator, abettor, and friend of terrorism, Iran. Iranian fundamentalists, in the chokehold they have on the country’s political system, are improving their grip. And, “according to current and former U.S. officials,” Iran has “escalated a campaign of cyberassaults against U.S. corporations. . . . The hackers were able to gain access to control-system software that could allow them to manipulate oil or gas pipelines.”

All that on a slow news day.

In 2001 Congress passed the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a declaration of war on terrorists and nations that harbor them. In his speech the president said, “I look forward to engaging . . . in efforts to refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate.”

I like the president’s use of the word “efforts” here, as though he’s merely trying to be stupid. He doesn’t need to try. Earlier in the week he signed new policy guidance for drone strikes. In the future we will use lethal drones only on terrorists who are a “continuing and imminent threat to the American people” and not on terrorists who are a “significant threat to U.S. interests.” Although, assuming tremendously stupid efforts will be made to tell the two kinds of terrorists apart, maybe I’m wrong about the president not needing to try. The policy guidance also stipulates that there “must be a near certainty” that civilians won’t be killed or injured in a drone strike. Imagine how stupid a WWII Army Air Corps briefing officer would have had to be to say that to his B-17 pilots.

Maybe we pundits don’t tell President Obama, “You’re stupid,” because we are proudly showing off our sensitivity to the negative stereotypes that hurtful language engenders in a way that we didn’t feel was necessary when we were telling Ronald Reagan, George Bush and George W. Bush, “You’re stupid,” even though actors, WASPs, and Texans are burdened with their fair share of negative lamebrain stereotypes.

More likely it’s because we pundits prize signs of intelligence. We take every opportunity to display our own signs, and President Obama exhibits the same wordy, wonky, academic intelligence indicators that we do, so we don’t call him stupid.

As if the two things were mutually exclusive. I know quite a few fellow members of the news analysis and commentary business, and I have it from the highest-placed sources, on the record, that each and every one of our children is a genius. And yet, if we pundits were to gather together our sons and daughters, during their teenage years, and close them for a night in a dimly lit room full of beer and drugs and comfy futons, I can assure you that evidence of stupidity would be found the next morning.

But the most likely reason that we don’t call President Obama stupid is that it’s such a cul-de-sac of a word. Stupid gives the pundit nothing to perform punditry upon. Call a man ignorant and you have license to show the world your vast fund of knowledge and wise him up. Call a man misguided and you transform your column or blog post or TV appearance into a valuable and beneficent German shepherd with a handle on its back and you lead the poor soul in his blindness. Call a man, best of all, wicked and you get to don the sacramental vestments, climb into the pulpit and thunder forth with such a sermon as to bring him weeping to the font of righteousness or cause the Lord God Almighty to strike him with a thunderbolt in his pew or something fun like that. But call a man stupid and . . . there it is.

And there it is: Dopey stimulus, obtuse bailout, noodle-headed Obamacare, half-wit Dodd-Frank, damfool IRS Tea Party crashers, AP and Fox News beset by oafish peeping Toms and the Benghazi tale told by an idiot. One could go on. Stupid is a great force in human affairs. And the great force has a commander in chief.

I don’t like it but he’s (at least partially) right.

To use this as a self-teachable moment, the most significant us-vs.-them line in the sand these days is the line between those who read such a piece and are saddened, and those who read such a piece and are glad. Reading this, and recognizing the merits of O’Rourke’s argument, does not make me happy. And while I can’t assign a particular position to Mr. O’Rourke based on this column, since he, to his credit, avoids emotional or incendiary language here, there are plenty of people who would be very happy to read this. There are who would celebrate Obama’s failure at any cost, to the mutual misfortune of everyone. I would be much happier if there was nothing – or, realistically, less – to call Obama stupid about. I would be happier if there was less to call John Boehner, Rince Priebus, and Mitch McConnell stupid about too. I would be A LOT happier if there was less to call the Tea Party stupid about.

To further extrapolate on the previous two posts, the Obama administration is indeed responsible for broad failures related to the current scandals in its inability to reform government in the way he promised, and act on some of his campaign principles. Obama’s culpability here, though, is in a more abstract, ideological sense, a failure of principle, rather than specific wrongdoing, negligence, or conspiracy on the part of the administration as relates to Benghazi, the IRS, or the Justice Department. From a post by Dan Balz:

[Obama] then described what that meant for the government he was beginning to assemble [in 2009]. “What we don’t know yet is whether my administration and this next generation of leadership is going to be able to hew to a new, more pragmatic approach that is less interested in whether we have big government or small government [but is] more interested in whether we have a smart, effective government.”

What has happened since Obama laid down that challenge for his administration? More Americans favor smaller government over bigger government than when he was first elected, according to exit polls from last November. Public confidence in the federal government is as low as it has ever been, according to a Pew Research Center survey released this spring.

This weekend, four of the government’s biggest agencies are beset by political controversy, management breakdowns or both: State (what happened in Benghazi), Treasury (targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service), Justice (leak-related investigationof the Association Press) and Defense (rising numbers of sexual assaults). Add to that the questions about Health and Human Services and its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and it is little wonder confidence has eroded.

There are many reasons for the public’s diminished confidence in the federal government, reflecting general disapproval with the way Washington has worked during the Obama years. The president’s advisers blame Republicans for much of the gridlock and partisan infighting, and they are quick to note that Obama’s approval ratings are far higher than those of the Republicans.

Republicans do bear a considerable share of the responsibility for overall attitudes about Washington and government. Their dismal ratings are a measure of public dissatisfaction with the party generally and with House Republican efforts to thwart the president. But Obama bears a particular responsibility for failing to do what he said he had to do, which was to persuade the public that he could make the part of government that he directly controls — the executive branch — smarter, more effective and more deserving of trust.

[A concerned reader – who is also a close relative of mine – emailed me regarding my last post, about the  vacant, ephemeral nature of the recent scandals, and the Ezra Klein article I used to support my assertions. In the email he expressed some doubt as to the veracity of Klein’s claims (I believe the phrase used was “full of shit”), and made it clear that it was crazy to claim there had been no wrongdoing in any of these instances. The email got me thinking and made me want to better clarify the original post, in something like an addendum.]

In my previous post, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that there was no wrongdoing at all – there were some IRS agents in Cincinnati who were certainly in the wrong in way overstepping their discretion prerogatives, and perhaps some of their superiors as well for allowing it to happen, and there were some employees of the Justice Department who clearly violated black and white regulations that are meant to protect the press. I can barely tell what the Benghazi debate is even about these days – there was a question of why the main embassy could not fulfill a request to spare four soldiers to help the consulate ahead of the incident, but its not clear that would have made any difference, and anyway the main accusations have shifted from the actual incident to what the White House said about the incident, like whether the word terrorist was actually used, for example, so I suppose there might be some low level bureaucratic wrongdoing there.

My overall point was that, based on current information, the impropriety of any of these scandals didn’t even expand to the White House, much less Obama himself. The question of his involvement needed to be asked at first, and it has been, and the evidence has shown the administration had little to do with any of it. Many pundits have taken this defense as an opportunity to slam Obama for the opposite sort of conduct, saying that he is too aloof, too uninvolved, too uninterested in his own government, which may have some amount of merit, but the way the argument came about does a lot to denigrate its credibility, and to what level it exists at all it is a separate issue (and it’s not just the right taking up this argument, but some on the left too – here’s an example, and here’s another one).

I think the focus surrounding these scandals stems from the premise that some people dislike Obama so much that they think he must be guilty of everything he is accused of. There are plenty of worthwhile things to criticize the man for, without saying every worst fear about him must be true, as some in Congress have done. People can keep looking, and even hoping, for something to go catastrophically wrong with his presidency, but this isn’t it, and my bet is that his presidency won’t go down in anything but overreaching, maybe arrogance, and mild neophytism.

As of today, even Newt Gingrich and some other top Republicans have offered a similar argument to what I was trying to say, and on NPR no less (here).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was front-and-center during the Republican-led impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, is cautioning his GOP colleagues about the risk of appearing to be too eager as they dig into the scandals now dogging the Obama administration.“I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?” Gingrich told NPR’s Mara Liasson for a story on Friday’s broadcast of Morning Edition.

And:

Gingrich’s view about how Republicans should proceed echoes those expressed by other GOP leaders in a piece published Thursday evening by Politico:“Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans.“Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.”

The Politico article contains another an interesting perspective. It looks like even most Congressional Republicans (and even a Fox News pundit) agree that the calls for Obama’s resignation and the comparisons to Watergate are preposterous, an example of overreaching. And that was my main point: these scandals are largely a result of overreaching in an effort to condemn Obama by people who hate him, and contain far less actual wrongdoing and effectual substance than is being claimed.

“Scandal” seems to be the watchword of politics lately, and if you’re to believe the mainstream media it seems that the only things being done in Washington this week are either the discovery of new scandals, or the reactions to/investigations of already-discovered scandals. But despite what would appear to be a plethora of wrongdoing in our current government, the whole things is a farce, devoid of any substance. As Ezra Klein wrote for the Washington Post, “absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don’t seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don’t reach high enough.” Scandals require “the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions.” So far, the reality of each scandal does not suggest this is the case.

Benghazi is the biggest farce, as the scandal surrounding a truly tragic incident has devolved into being not actually about anything. No one is arguing anything important to the actual event, or even anything important to the administration’s reaction to the event. The worst thing Obama has stood accused of – and it’s worth noting that this is still in dispute, and in some places has disintegrated into an argument over semantics – is not calling the incident an act of “terror” soon enough. It has also come down to accusations that the administration may have “air-brushed” its talking points, and its accusers are grasping so hard and reaching so far as to call this a more significant event than Watergate, and saying Obama will eventually have to resign, which makes their argument even more preposterous. Klein writes:

We’re long past the point where it’s obvious what the Benghazi scandal is supposed to be about. The inquiry has moved on from the events in Benghazi proper, tragic as they were, to the talking points about the events in Benghazi. And the release Wednesday night of 100 pages of internal e-mails on those talking points seems to show what my colleague Glenn Kessler suspected: This was a bureaucratic knife fight between the State Department and the CIA.

As for the White House’s role, well, the e-mails suggest there wasn’t much of one. “The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago,” report The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung.

The AP phone records scandal, while not as preposterous, does not actually include any wrongdoing or law-breaking. While this is true – and, in fact, because its true – what is troubling in this case is that something like this could happen without a law being broken. As a Washington Post heading stated, “the real scandal is what’s legal.” It seems like something must have gone wrong here. But from a legal standpoint, using this as an attack on the Obama administration does not hold water. Again from Klein:

This is the weirdest of the three [scandals]. There’s no evidence that the DoJ did anything illegal. Most people, in fact, think it was well within its rights to seize the phone records of Associated Press reporters. And if the Obama administration has been overzealous in prosecuting leakers, well, the GOP has been arguing that the White House hasn’t taken national security leaks seriously enough. The AP/DoJ fight has caused that position to flip, and now members of Congress are concerned that the DoJ is going after leaks too aggressively. But it’s hard for a political party to prosecute wrongdoing when they disagree with the potential remedies.

Insofar as there’s a “scandal” here, it’s more about what is legal than what isn’t. The DoJ simply has extraordinary power, under existing law, to spy on ordinary citizens — members of the media included. The White House is trying to change existing law by encouraging Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce the Media Shield Act. The Post’s Rachel Weiner has a good rundown of what the bill would do. It’s likely that the measure’s national security exemption would make it relatively toothless in this particular case, but if Congress is worried, they always can — and probably should — take that language out. Still, that legislation has been killed by Republicans before, and it’s likely to be killed by them again.

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