With the failure of gun control in the rearview mirror and immigration reform just over the horizon, there is presently little to distract the public eye from the triple scandals — those pertaining to the misrepresentation of the Benghazi attack last September, to the IRS targeting of conservative groups, and to the Justice Department's seizure of Associated Press phone records — that currently plague the White House. I must admit that to a frustrated conservative such as myself, it is tempting to brand these latest episodes as evidence of the Obama presidency's providential fate. But while the degree of media attention may be deserved, we only serve to cheapen the valuable lessons that these scandals lend when we try to make them (even in the aggregate) into candidates for the next Watergate. Unfortunately, immediate public attention is too concentrated on anticipating the facts and not enough on reacting to those we already know. Between the headlines, the hearings, and the dinner table debates that dwell on the scandals having recently come into vogue, one can almost hear the faint, yet less-than-coherent outcry of Seinfeld lawyer Jackie Chiles: "It's an infringement on your constitutional rights. It's outrageous, egregious, preposterous!"
The mere fact that these scandals reflect poorly on the executive branch and occurred on President Obama's watch does not mean that the tri-scandals deserve the distinct honor of being followed with "-gate." Are the Justice Department's secret subpoenas of questionable constitutionality? Yes. Do political motivations lay at the core of the excess scrutiny given to tea-party organizations on behalf of the IRS? Undoubtedly. Is it downright shameful that Ambassador Stevens and three others lost their lives because the State Department failed to provide the proper level of protection at a post they knew to be dangerous, and on September 11th no less? Of course! Each of these incidents chillingly reminds us of the steep price we pay for our governmental bureaucracy's glaring incompetence.
And yet, mistakes and lacks in oversight should not historical scandals make. The "talking points" presented after the attack in Benghazi could just as easily reflect a scuffle between the CIA and State Department as they could a politically defensive maneuver, which in any case will prove more troublesome for former Secretary Clinton than to the president. President Obama's rhetoric and election tactics may have cultivated a toxic culture within the administration's ranks, but we have little evidence to support the notion that the White House directly orchestrated or sought to cover up the IRS targeting of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. Meanwhile, the extent of the AP debacle is still unknown, but present concerns focus more on constitutionality than anything overtly political.
This is not to say that the Obama White House is without fault or that is undeserving of the scrutiny under which it currently finds itself. Those looking for a scandal that implicates President Obama directly need look no farther than our (green-less) green friend, Solyndra. Remember when the vice president's office risked and lost half a billion dollars after pressuring the Office of Management and Budget to approve a guarantee on a default-prone loan? Remember when the Energy Department told the struggling solar company to delay its bankruptcy announcement until after the 2010 midterm elections? Remember when the White House withheld internal documents regarding the scandal, outright ignoring a House panel subpoena?
Still looking for a Watergate parallel, you say? "Ah, but of course," says the soft-spoken elderly gentleman at the help desk of the Library of Obama-related Scandals, "Allow me to direct you to the ATF gunwalking scandal, in which the president was implicated in covering-up the illegal deeds of a friend and appointee." The astute reader will recall that the Operation Fast & Furious scandal culminated in a contempt vote against Attorney General Eric Holder after the Justice Department and the White House failed to turn over key documents. If the developments of the Solyndra and gunwalking scandals seem like distant memories to you, you are probably not alone. America lost interest a long time ago.
There is a time and place for everything (and especially so for the media), and now it seems is the time for scandals. And yet, I implore you to fight the urge to prematurely conjure images of executive misconduct and shadowy cover-ups. President Obama already has a few prime scandals under his belt; we aren't desperate for more. Perhaps the Benghazi, IRS, and AP scandals will develop into more than what they seem at present. And if they do, we can only hope that America's capricious attention span has not been expended on the anticipatory excitement of the present, lest potential history be condemned to the dust heap in which the Solyndra and the ATF gunwalking scandals currently reside.
For the time being, let us be productive with these latest stories and learn the right lessons — that an inflated executive branch is an incompetent one, that partisanship pervades every level of the bureaucracy, and that the line between protecting our security and breaching our rights is frighteningly thin. With our accidental assistance, history will surely forget these scandals, but it will be unable to ignore an era in which our bureaucratic flaws and governmental shortcomings are reduced to mere fodder for a cynical public giddy to place blame but uninterested in finding lasting solutions for the issues of its day.