David Harsanyi / May 23, 2013

Obama May Survive, but Scandals a Blow to Left

For all the complaining the left has done about those shadowy outside political groups subverting the democratic process, we recently learned that no one has the means to undercut freedom of expression quite like an enthusiastic government agency. Appropriately, nearly everyone in Washington is professing and/or pretending to be outraged that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups. Yet if we’re to believe recent polls, an uninformed President Barack Obama (similarly outraged as he watches events unfold on the news) hasn’t shouldered much of the blame for scandalmania just yet – and perhaps he may never be damaged.

For all the complaining the left has done about those shadowy outside political groups subverting the democratic process, we recently learned that no one has the means to undercut freedom of expression quite like an enthusiastic government agency.

Appropriately, nearly everyone in Washington is professing and/or pretending to be outraged that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups. Yet if we’re to believe recent polls, an uninformed President Barack Obama (similarly outraged as he watches events unfold on the news) hasn’t shouldered much of the blame for scandalmania just yet – and perhaps he may never be damaged.

And so what? Though the president’s fate seems to be the paramount concern of the leftist punditry (a group that now argues that any “real” scandal is only one in which the president had personal knowledge of misconduct in real time – meaning, one supposes, that Abu Ghraib should be retroactively reclassified as a non-scandal for George W. Bush), it matters not. Even with an adoring public, the chances of Obama’s pushing through any substantive legislation before 2014 – or even 2016 – were slim at best. Those poll-ignoring obstructionists in the House will see to it.

The president won’t be running for re-election, but progressivism will. And the most vital element of Obama’s agenda, no matter where any of these investigations lead, has already taken a big hit – and that’s the electorate’s trust in government.

A recent Pew Research Center poll has found that only 26 percent of Americans trust government to make the right decisions, with 73 percent having little confidence in government. A very recent Fox News poll found that about two-thirds of voters feel the government is “out of control and threatening their civil liberties.” Those people have it just mostly right, because government isn’t exactly “out of control.” The problem is that it has too much control over too many aspects of the political process (among other things).

Though it’s imperative to get to the bottom of the Justice Department’s attacks on the First Amendment, the Benghazi situation and the IRS’ attack on free speech – for most people, the most tangible and comprehensible of all the recent scandals – it is also imperative to point out the conditions that make this kind of abuse possible. The raison d'etre of the Obama era, ultimately, has been to convince you that government is trustworthy. It isn’t.

If, as some argue, a few pencil pushers have the capability to obstruct the right of thousands of Americans to assemble (without being noticed for a year), then the IRS is too vast. If, as others argue, higher-ups surely gave the orders to shut down conservative groups, that tells us the IRS is too easily corruptible – and too powerful.

It is also impossible to compartmentalize government from politics. Democrats have treated limited-government types not as political opponents or mere ideological adversaries but with a deep moral contempt typically reserved for violent enemies of the state. Those who were targeted were – as left-wing politicians and pundits have tagged them – radicals, extremists, nihilists, racists and so on, people who congregate in groups funded by dirty money provided by puppet masters. Why wouldn’t the IRS want to investigate these people?

Now, I’m under no misconceptions that America is about to go libertarian. But heightened skepticism toward power is good news. So for those who believe in limited government, this might be the time not only to attack Obama but to argue that abuse of power is the perpetual condition of an activist Washington, not a quirk of the times.

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