“I was going to start off tonight with an Obama joke, but I don’t want to get audited by the IRS. So forget that.” –Jay Leno
“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics?” –Former Speaker Newt Gingrich
In science, there are two distinct terms for the twin pillars of truth. First, there are the facts. They are those basic events, reactions, and relationships that are shown to have obtained in the past or to necessarily describe facets of our view of space-time. Second, there are the theories. Contrary to what many laypeople tend to think, a theory is not less than a fact. Rather, it is the underlying narrative that makes a portrait out of puzzle pieces in the dark. It is the hand that builds a complex, stable world from raw elements of chaos, such that sapience might be possible and reflection will have foundation.
So what are the facts?
We know the IRS has admitted to improperly targeting conservative groups from 2010 to 2012. We know the first public resignation derived from with this occurrence came from a man who was not in charge during the targeting and was due to retire in weeks anyway. We know the woman who actually held his job when it mattered has since been promoted to the IRS office overseeing Obamacare. We know that, among other things, Obamacare’s financial burden is a tax on our all houses if we are not compliant. We are told that we should trust that there will be nothing improper in all this.
We know the Department of Justice invaded the privacy of the Associated Press during a broad search for leaks in the government. We know at least two months of phone records were seized in an informational grab that may have caught over a hundred reporters in its web. We know the AP had cooperated with the administration but was not informed of this surveillance until well after it occurred.
We know the government subpoenaed the email and phone records of James Rosen, a reporter from Fox News—the same Fox News that, just a few years ago, the White House memorably attacked for its critical coverage—by naming him part of a criminal conspiracy for performing the normal newsgathering duties of a journalist. We know DOJ investigators also targeted Rosen’s parents and Fox News coworkers. We know the Obama administration has pursued more leak investigations under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. We know there is supposed to be a free press in the United States of America. We are told that Obama administration, which apparently regrets nothing, will not prosecute journalists.
So what are the plausible theories?
We can launch into a conversation about how a culture of cultural division, political antagonism, moral condescension, and general incivility permeated like secondhand smoke from the president’s speeches down to subordinate bureaucrats whom he probably never even met, let alone knew existed. We can ruminate on shifts in overarching political and sociocultural narratives, as Alexander Burns and John F. Harris did last week in Politico:
“The narrative is personal. The uproars over alleged politicization of the IRS and far-reaching attempts to monitor journalists and their sources have not been linked directly to Obama. But it does not strain credulity to suggest that Obama’s well-known intolerance for leaks, and his regular condemnations of conservative dark-money groups, could have filtered down to subordinates.
The narrative is ideological. For five years, this president has been making the case that a growing and activist government has good intentions and can carry these intentions out with competence. Conservatives have warned that government is dangerous, and even good intentions get bungled in the execution. In different ways, the IRS uproar, the Justice Department leak investigations, the Benghazi tragedy and the misleading attempts to explain it, and the growing problems with implementation of health care reform all bolster the conservative worldview.
In Obama’s case, the narrative emerging from this tumultuous week goes something like this: None of these messes would have happened under a president less obsessed with politics, less insulated within his own White House and less trusting of government as an institution.”
We can also isolate individual scandals—say, the IRS shenanigans—and point out how Obama has proven to be *gasp* as bad as his predecessors. Of course, there is the notable distinction that it was President Obama, not Presidents Nixon through Bush, who extended to the notoriously unsavory tax bureaucracy the powers of overseeing our healthcare decisions.
Any of those topics would allow for thousands upon thousands of words of commentary, so I will choose to make some simple observations about the future. To start with the obvious: it is difficult to fathom that the Left will be able to credibly dismiss concerns about abusive government for the foreseeable future. That is, the effects of this shift in public perspective on Obama and the intrusion of government will cast a long shadow.
As a pertinent example, consider healthcare reform. The cost of implementing Obamacare is already running as much as 10 times over budget and average healthcare premiums for ordinary Americans have risen—counter to Democratic promises—since the law passed. It is already shady enough that the Secretary of Health and Human Services is hitting up private companies for Obamacare donations. Add to that story the fact that the same IRS bureaucrat who oversaw the discriminatory targeting of the administration’s political enemies will now have a hand in every American’s pocketbook and doctor’s office, and discomfort with “reform” pulsates viscerally across the political spectrum.
A majority of Americans may like Barack Obama personally, and reporters at NPR and The New York Times may still be inclined to shield his administration from the full weight of due criticism. To be sure, there is no hard proof of direct involvement from the president in the rank malfeasance of the IRS or DOJ. But lasting narrative and policy success is not a house built merely on a foundation of pleasant sentiments. More paramount is the expectation of knowledge, control, and competence. In other words, what President Obama will need to push full implementation of and support for Obamacare and the rest of his agenda are credibility and trust. Yet, from drone strikes that killed an innocent American child—beyond presidential control, of course—to balancing the budget, a narrative of competence and control is precisely what the president now lacks.
This kind of miasmic distrust—of the federal government in particular, and this administration in particular—is precisely the kind of debilitating breech of credibility that Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) cited as the ultimate reason for the failure of his bill to expand government control of gun sales. Before Manchin-Toomey failed despite a majority vote, along with three Republican-led attempts at sensible gun reform, conservatives detailed various ways in which the law would allow the federal government to bypass the supposed ban on registration and state governments to harass law-abiding travelers.
Back then, proponents of the bill shrugged off these criticisms as, among other things, anti-government paranoia. Now, what credible reason can be given to assure the American people that their government will not abuse its power over guns as it has elsewhere? Even staunch supporters of President Obama must seriously wonder if he would even know if such abuses were to occur. After all, his administration’s perpetual defense against misconduct is ignorance and distance from its own internal affairs.
President Obama may emerge from this feast of scandals and media rejection in better shape than the unfortunate victims of the George R.R. Martin’s haunting tune, “The Rains of Castamere.” But there is blood of broken trust in the shifting waters of Washington, and its corruption will not be cleansed by the tired breath of an outraged speech.