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Is Obama George W. — or even Nixon? The secrecy factor

by Ron Kampeas, JTA

May 14, 2013 | 10:05 am

President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington on May 13. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

President Barack Obama at the White House in Washington on May 13. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Obama administration has in recent weeks suffered a 1-2-3 scandal outbreak:

– The Benghazi tragedy-as-fiasco gained legs when internal emails emerged suggesting a massaged timeline of who knew what, when;

– The IRS owned up to focusing on conservative groups in delaying approval for tax exempt status in the last election;

– The AP furiously revealed that for two months last year the Justice Department had tracked its phone calls, apparently in a bid to track down government leakers in a story about the thwarting of a Yemen-based terrorist plot.

So the emerging narrative is, is President Obama another George W. Bush or (gasp!) Richard Nixon? And will this finally lose him the liberals?

The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center is already on the record with fairly no-holds-barred outrage regarding the IRS story:

Reports that the IRS focused attention on applications for tax exempt status from groups with apparently politically conservative names and ideologies are deeply concerning. The IRS must establish neutral guidelines for its work that do not favor or disadvantage any political ideology. Abiding by these guidelines will ensure the IRS upholds the non-partisan status that is key to maintaining public trust in its work.

No individual or organization should incur extra attention from the IRS solely on the basis of political ideology and no entity should feel implicit or explicit pressure to alter its mission or actions based on fear of politically-motivated action from the IRS – or any other government agency.

We look forward to a full explanation from the IRS as to how this situation developed and how it will be prevented from occurring in the future.

Jon Stewart had fun last night with the 1-2-3 meme:

And naturally, we’re already deep into Nixon comparisons.

The Nixon years are an inverse of the old 1960s encomium: Anyone who misremembers them so badly can’t have lived through them. Nixon made rivals into enemies, tried to make enemies into criminals, and made the Constitution confetti along the way. Obama, so far, is a long way from there.

But the Bush comparisons seem to have legs, and not least because it has been Obama’s defenders who over the last couple of days have raised them. The Bush era IRS in 2004 went after the NAACP, they have noted, and the Bush administration sought New York Times and Washington Post phone records under the same terms that the Obama DOJ did the AP.

Which raises the question: How does this square with a president who campaigned on a vow not to be Bush, particularly as it related to government secrecy?

One caveat: The Bush administration sought to criminalize the gathering of information, not merely its leaking. It tried to set a precedent that ultimately would have criminalized the journalists in these cases, not just the leakers.

JTA covered the story, naturally enough — the “leakees” in this case were two former AIPAC staffers. And notably, one of Attorney General Eric Holder’s first acts was to shut the case down.

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