Friday, December 27, 2013

A Cascade of Trouble: Life in Obama's Second Term

Here in the US it’s been an interesting week, as scandals have been sprouting like mushrooms after rain. Indeed, even the American news media is taking an interest, which is striking given the customarily friendly or even servile attitude many journalists have toward the ruling party (last week a cable news host asked for Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s autograph on air, for instance). But with so many scandals erupting at once we are spoiled for choice, and not all of them will gain traction. Let’s break them down one by one and assess their chances of giving US President Barack Obama a nasty headache.

Disney World-gate
On Tuesday the New York Post reported that chic Manhattanites are paying handicapped people lots of money to pretend to be family members so that they can skip the lines at Disney World.

Traction: Zero.  It’s got nothing to do with Obama – I just wanted to mention it as a prime example of loathsome behavior by the nation’s self-identified virtuous elite. Or is it simply the free market in all its glory? I report, you decide.
On Tuesday Moscow announced that it had detained a US embassy employee in Moscow for trying to recruit a Russian agent.
Traction: Zero. That’s a scandal for Russia, not the US. Nobody in America cares if you spy on Russians. In fact, lots of people think it’s a good idea.
Now we’re talking. Last week a number of whistle-blowers came forward from within the State Department to rubbish the administration’s already patently fatuous claim that the carnage at the US consulate in Benghazi last September was nothing more than a particularly violent reaction to the controversial privately produced US movie Innocence of Muslims. Embarrassing emails were released by ABC news, and the phrase “cover-up” has been tossed around.
Traction: Medium. A Pew survey released Monday said that only 23 percent of Americans are following the Benghazi story closely. Perhaps it is already too identified with Republican agitprop for it to cross over to a wider audience. On a deeper level, few people in the country want to think about Benghazi very much since that leads to painful reflections on the generally poor results of all America’s interventions since 9/11. Thus I think this one will trundle along for a while, but without developing into a full Category One scandal.
Apparently the Internal Revenue Service – America’s tax gathering body – has been harassing Tea Party and other conservative non-profits opposed to Obama’s policies by ordering them to jump through a ludicrous number of hoops when applying for tax free status. In other words, the state unfairly targeted a group of citizens for their beliefs. Outrage has been spreading rapidly across the political spectrum, although it should be noted that the deep political thinker/star of Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore Bette Midler thinks it’s awesome that the IRS hates small government types.
Traction: Strong. Everybody in America fears the IRS, so politicians of either stripe have little to lose by bashing the tax equivalent of the NKVD for its apparently egregious violations of the Constitution. Meanwhile, in Moscow, politicians are no doubt grateful for the gift of this latest tu quoque argument to be deployed immediately the next time an American statesman complains about Russian prosecutors launching a politicized tax investigation into a member of the opposition. 
As if the last two weren’t enough, news broke late Monday that the Department of Justice had obtained Associated Press phone records without telling the news agency. Why? Apparently the DOJ wanted to identify and punish an individual who had leaked a story about a failed terrorist attack. Obama is a champion persecutor of those who like to leak, having so far indicted six of them – more than any other president in history.
Traction: Medium
Last year the DOJ managed to ride out revelations that it was behind a plot to sell hundreds of guns to murderous Mexican drug lords. It was a policy of such cosmic idiocy that it is actually beneath human comprehension, and nobody understands it to this day. But having evaded real consequences for that scrape, I am not sure it will be so lucky this time. Journalists hitherto friendly to the administration are shocked that Obama’s DOJ has been listening to reporters’ phone calls. It’s like finding out your girlfriend doesn’t really like you.
And so after a first term in which Obama managed to evade major scandals, it seems that he is in for a rough ride in his second. No doubt he will resort to the ageless “Good tsar, bad boyars” strategy. But will it work? Which story will win out in the battle of the scandals? Will any of that mud actually stick? And where can I hire a handicapped person to get me on to Space Mountain in one minute instead of two hours?
Wait – you didn’t hear that last part.