Jewish Journal


May 20, 2013

What happened to Obama?


President Barack Obama on May 20. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

President Barack Obama on May 20. Photo by Larry Downing/Reuters

You know things are getting rough for President Barack Obama when even The New Yorker, that bastion of liberal thought, starts ridiculing him. Reacting to how the president is distancing himself from his administration’s three emerging scandals — the mishandling of the embassy attack at Benghazi, the targeting of a right-wing group by the IRS and press snooping by the Department of Justice — the magazine’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, wrote a post on its Web site titled, “Obama Denies Role in Government.”

To milk his point, as humorists are wont to do, Borowitz put words in Obama’s mouth: “Right now, many of you are angry at the government, and no one is angrier than I am. Quite frankly, I am glad that I have had no involvement in such an organization.”

Well, just how involved has the president been in the blunders of his “organization”? 

For Obama supporters like super blogger Andrew Sullivan, the heated criticism against Obama — such as the charge that this is the worst scandal since Watergate — is over the top and undeserved. To put things in perspective, Sullivan asks: “Has this president broken the law, lied under oath or authorized war crimes? Has he traded arms for hostages with Iran? Has he knowingly sent his cabinet out to tell lies about his sex life? Has he sat by idly as an American city was destroyed by a hurricane? Has he started a war with no planning for an occupation?”

Fair enough, but if you listen to Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic, Obama has been involved with serious scandals — only they’re not the ones you think. They’re worse.

“The scandals [that Obama’s critics are] presently touting, as bad as they are,” he writes, “aren’t even the worst of Team Obama’s transgressions.” These other scandals, he says, are “proven and ignored.”

He starts with Sullivan’s first question: Has this president broken the law, lied under oath or authorized war crimes?

“Yes,” he answers, “President Obama has broken the law on multiple occasions. Despite clearly stating, in a 2008 questionnaire, that the commander-in-chief is not lawfully empowered to ignore treaties duly ratified by the Senate, Obama has willfully failed to enforce the torture treaty, signed by Ronald Reagan and duly ratified by the Senate, that compels him to investigate and prosecute torture.” 

He adds that Obama also violated the War Powers Resolution, a law “he has specifically proclaimed to be constitutionally valid, when committing U.S. troops to Libya without congressional approval.” He quotes Sullivan himself, who wrote in 2011: “The war in Libya becomes illegal from now on. And the imperial presidency grows even more powerful.” 

Friedersdorf, whom I consider a moderate centrist, has his own list of questions about Obama’s record, which he says add up to a “scandalous presidency,” such as:  

“Has he ordered the assassination of any American citizens in secret without due process? … Has he spied on millions of innocent Americans without a warrant or probable cause? Did he ‘sign a bill that enshrines in law the previously merely alleged executive power of indefinite detention without trial of terror suspects’?”

Even Sullivan has written previously that the president is “a clear and knowing accessory to war crimes, and should at some point face prosecution as well, if the Geneva Conventions mean anything anymore.”

So, how do you explain Sullivan defending a president he has castigated so harshly in the past?

Friedersdorf’s answer speaks to the hyper-partisanship that often infects politics. “Sullivan hasn’t internalized the worst of what Obama’s done,” he writes, “because his notion of scandal is implicitly constrained by whatever a president’s partisan opponents tout as scandalous.”

In other words, because Republicans didn’t go bonkers on those previous Obama transgressions (presumably because they were security related), Sullivan felt free to take on the president. But now that Republicans are going to town on the current scandals, Sullivan gets hit with a sudden attack of amnesia, going so far as to write: “So far as I can tell, this president has done nothing illegal, unethical or even wrong.”

Friedersdorf’s snarky response: “Yes. He. Has.”

The truth is, even accounting for partisanship, there is a growing realization among liberal circles (see Maureen Dowd, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart) that this president, for all his charm, eloquence and accomplishments, has gone too far. The evidence that he has abused his presidential powers is cumulative and disturbing. 

It’s not only about the scandals du jour, such as Benghazi, the IRS and the press snooping, however troubling those are. It’s also about the general pattern of the Obama presidency and the setting of precedents for future presidents.

To hold the president accountable, Congress should begin a bipartisan investigation of all areas where there is evidence of presidential abuse of power — including areas where Republicans have let him off the hook, such as torture, war powers and assassinations of U.S. citizens.

Yes, it would be messy, but so is a vibrant democracy.

If you ask me, it’s a sign of progress: Our first African-American president is being strongly challenged and occasionally ridiculed by the mainstream media, which means he’s being treated no differently than any white president from Texas.

God bless America.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

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