On Wednesday I mentioned the possibility that President Obama will be treated as though his name is on the ballot in 2016 even though he won’t be running–much the way Obama himself ran against George W. Bush in 2008. But today the New York Times tackles a much more immediate version of this story: whether and how Obama will be used against Democrats in next year’s mid-term congressional elections.
The conceit of the Times story is that Republicans are tempted to tie Obama to the various scandals of his administration currently in the news, and then tie Democrats to Obama, but they face a major obstacle: voters give Obama high marks for personal likability. It is another article warning Republicans against “overreaching,” with an added–and, frankly, bizarre–twist. The Times claims Republicans risk re-enacting the fallout from their predecessors’ conduct during Bill Clinton’s scandal-plagued year in his second term.
There are plenty of sensible suggestions in the article, but the overarching comparison doesn’t hold up. Although many Americans believed Clinton had acted unethically with Monica Lewinsky and illegally by misleading the grand jury, many of those same Americans also agreed when Clinton said that he had been asked “questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.” He would later be impeached for it.
Additionally, plenty of Clinton’s supporters argued the personal scandal had nothing to do with Clinton’s presidential responsibilities. That cannot be persuasively argued in the case of President Obama’s scandals, which are on the issues and which are completely intertwined with his approach to governing and how his decisions in the White House impact Americans. The tragedy in Benghazi is testament to the dangers of the president’s “lead from behind” foreign policy and refusal to be frank about the threats facing America.
The IRS scandal was about a powerful enforcement arm of the government targeting those who disagreed with Obama and blatantly trampling on the constitutional rights of his political opponents. As McClatchy reports, the IRS abuse may have been much more comprehensive than first reported:
A group of anti-abortion activists in Iowa had to promise the Internal Revenue Service it wouldn’t picket in front of Planned Parenthood.
Catherine Engelbrecht’s family and business in Texas were audited by the government after her voting-rights group sought tax-exempt status from the IRS.
Retired military veteran Mark Drabik of Nebraska became active in and donated to conservative causes, then found the IRS challenging his church donations.
While the developing scandal over the targeting of conservatives by the tax agency has largely focused to date on its scrutiny of groups with words such as “tea party” or “patriot” in their names, these examples suggest the government was looking at a broader array of conservative groups and perhaps individuals. Their collective experiences at a minimum could spread skepticism about the fairness of a powerful agency that should be above reproach and at worst could point to a secret political vendetta within the government against conservatives.
The emerging stories from real people raise questions about whether the IRS scrutiny extended beyond applicants for tax-exempt status and whether individuals who donated to these tax-exempt organizations or to conservative causes also were targeted.
McClatchy’s use of the term “real people” here is awkward to say the least, but the point the reporters are making is that the IRS was initially believed to have targeted organizations but in fact may have been targeting individuals as well, expressly for their political beliefs. The IRS appears to have gone looking for possible conservatives to hassle and silence.
Obama’s health-care reform sets out to expand the size and scope of both the federal government generally and the IRS specifically. Whether Obama personally ordered the IRS to target conservatives and pro-Israel groups beyond simply egging on suspicion of them publicly and repeatedly doesn’t change the way his approach to governing enables this behavior. Clinton’s dalliances may have had limited or no relevance to Americans’ own lives, but the opposite is true of the Obama administration’s IRS scandal.
Conservatives don’t have to accuse Obama of unethical behavior to make this point. The president’s vision for the country, and that of his party, is to increase the power and reach of the IRS into the health care of Americans. If Democrats think that constitutes a personal attack, then they object to any criticism of their leader. And they shouldn’t expect congressional candidates around the country to play along.