Commentary Magazine


Obama Can’t Be Trusted with Power

I agree with Jonathan’s post both in terms of substance and the media response to the NSA/surveillance stories. 

On the former: the PRISM program, in the right hands and used with discretion, can be justified based on the threats to America. But in the wrong hands–in executive branch hands that have abused power and punished political enemies–it has the potential to be misused. Which brings me to the current chief executive.

My views on President Obama are such that very little would surprise me in terms of the ethical lines he would cross in order to gain and maintain political power.

That may seem like an overly harsh judgment, so let me take a moment to explain what I mean. I have become convinced, based on what I would argue is the increasing weight of the evidence, that Mr. Obama is a man whose sense of mission, his arrogance and self-righteousness, and his belief in the malevolence of his enemies might well lead him and his administration to act in ways that would seem to him to be justified at the time but, in fact, are wholly inappropriate.

I would include as evidence to support my assertion the president’s routine slander of his opponents, his serially misleading statements (including flat-out falsehoods about the lethal attacks on the Benghazi consulate), the IRS scandal and the public signals the president sent to that agency over the years, the unprecedented targeting of journalists by the Department of Justice and the attorney general’s nasty little habit of misleading Congress, Mr. Obama’s unusually dishonest campaign against Mitt Romney, and his overall contempt for the rule of law. He just doesn’t think that rules should apply to him, that he is above all that. Those who see themselves as world-historical figures tend to do that.  

I also agree with Jonathan that “no one should be under any illusion about whether they [those at the New York Times] will press this or any other issue if they thought the president was in any real trouble. Their pious disclaimers notwithstanding, partisanship will always trump principle at the Times.” That is true of many other liberals in the press as well. The degree to which a substantial number of the elite media are in the tank for President Obama varies–but that they are in the tank is unquestionable.

With all that said, however, I do believe that the controversy over the National Security Agencies and its surveillance techniques could politically damage the president and his party, at least in this respect. This issue–unlike the IRS/DOJ/Benghazi scandals that are engulfing the administration–has ignited a revolt among some of Mr. Obama’s core supporters. They are downright angry at the president for what they (rightly) consider to be a betrayal of his previous promises. And anytime a president is dealing with an issue that is fracturing his base without winning over swing voters, it’s not good for him.

This doesn’t mean that in an election liberals would vote for Republicans. But it might well mean that their enthusiasm for the Democratic Party will be dampened, that fundraising falls off, and that the willingness to work for Democratic candidates is reduced. And in a mid-term election, those things matter.

We’re still a long way off from the 2014 mid-term election, of course. But the last four weeks or so have been damaging ones for the president, in ways that could be durable. Certain impressions–having to do with incompetence, hypocrisy, dissembling and contempt for the rule of law–are beginning to harden. That can’t be good for Mr. Obama or his party. And just think; we’re only a little over four months into the president’s second term.

It can get worse. And my guess is it will.