The Debate is Over

The debate about Obamacare is over, according to a presidential pronouncement, and it seems a shame. There was a lot more grousing about it that we’d plan to do, now we’ll have to cancel that sarcastic skit we’d written for the upcoming “Gridiron” show, and the public is stuck with a spectacularly stupid law.
Perhaps the debate will rage on, despite the president’s protests, but he does seem to have an eerie power to end any arguments that he’s losing. The Benghazi scandal disappeared from the news shortly after his Secretary of State declared “What difference, at this point, does it make?” The Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups has been similarly ignored after the president dismissed it as a “phony scandal,” even though the woman at the middle of it of all has quite genuinely invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The arguments about fiascos from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to whatever happened to all that stimulus spending have all been as abruptly truncated.
All those cancellations of policies and increases in health insurance bills and the death panels passing judgment on grandma and the rest of it will make Obamacare harder to ignore, but the left’s power to put an end to losing arguments should not be underestimated. Even with the coldest winter in memory stubbornly stretching into April after a decade-and-a-half of global cooling the debate about anthropogenic global warming has been declared over, and most of the media have obediently obliged. A relatively recent bout over the five millennia-old tradition of marriage has also been stopped on a technical knock-out, and the half of the country with lingering doubts has effectively been banished from the mainstream of contemporary society. Any debate about the social acceptability of white racism has been thoroughly ceased, which is a good thing, but some very non-racist debate about affirmative action and inner-city crime and other issues that have baleful effects on minorities have also been stopped.
Around the time of the president’s first election Time Magazine declared on its cover that “We Are All Socialists Now,” and that seems to have settled that. If America isn’t quite yet socialist by consensus, we’re at least far enough along that the Majority Leader of the United States Senate can confidently slander the Koch brothers as “un-American” for their pro-capitalism activities and anybody with concerns about that $17 trillion of debt is easily dismissed a radical anti-government kook. Arguments about the basic assumptions of the New Deal welfare and regulatory state were declared over more than 60 years ago, with even such a stalwart Republican as Ronald Reagan being unwilling to do more than try to retain their old limits, and they’ve been barreling towards their illogical conclusions ever since.
We think that these debates never really go away, though, even if they have to be revived by catastrophe. We’d also like to think that Americans still have a stubborn unwillingness to submit to stupid laws, and that enough argument can avert catastrophes, but that’s debatable.

– Bud Norman

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It’s News to Us

Maybe it’s just a post-Thanksgiving, pre-Christmas lull, but there didn’t seem to be any big news on Monday. There were more embarrassing revelations about Obamacare, and the stock market took a downturn on disappointing holiday sales figures as the economy limps along, and the nation’s foreign policy appears in disarray from the Senkaku Islands to the Iranian centrifuges, but nothing that dominated the day’s discussions.
Fortunately for the hard-core news junkie, there’s always a fix available at The Drudge Report. The widely-derided and far more widely-read website is remarkably astute in highlighting the most important stories of the day, and when there aren’t any it always finds fascinating filler. It’s most recent top headline concerned the latest Obamacare debacle, this time about the lack of security on the Healthcare.gov site where people are expected to reveal their Social Security numbers and dates of birth and most intimate health problems, but such outrages are now so commonplace that the real fascination lie further down page. Other Obamacare-related headlines had to do with citizens calling the cops on the beleaguered law’s door-to-door salesman, the Internal Revenue Service auditing a cancer patient who spoke out after losing his coverage, and a deliciously Drudge kind of stories about the prostitutes at a Nevada brothel calling the law “a blessing.”
There were more stories about the death of the star of the “Fast and Furious” movies in a car crash, an irresistibly ironic tale that Drudge has been following with rapt attention, but we haven’t seen any of the movies and have no reaction beyond the requisite condolences to the actor’s friends and family, assuming he has any. He was a fine fellow, for all we know, but the pictures indicate that he had that slightly-unshaven look we find so irritating and we doubt his pictures lived up to standards of the old Roger Corman “Fast and Furious” with the slick white convertible Jaguar.
We are fond of some of Bob Dylan’s music, however, and were therefore interested to see that the erstwhile Voice of His Generation is being charged with “fomenting hate” in France as the result of a year-old interview with Rolling Stone magazine in which he likened the Croats’ treatment of the Serbs with the Nazis’ treatment of their various enemies. Aside from the surprise of learning that Rolling Stone is still in publication, and that Dylan was simultaneously accepting the French government’s prestigious Legion d’Honneur, which is only bestowed on the likes of Jerry Lewis, the story also provided the satisfaction of knowing that ol’ Bob can still provoke the occasional contretemps. In the same interview that led to the charges he apparently griped that a significant numbers of his countrymen are pining for a return to slavery, but such absurd anti-Americanism isn’t likely stir French indignation or any controversy here.
The Drudge Report has an admirable willingness to report on racial controversies that the rest of the media would prefer to ignore, and Monday’s edition had headlines about the director of “The Butler” confessing his anger toward white people and another Jewish victim of the “knockout game” that has become popular among black youths.
News of the weird is another Drudge specialty, and his latest offerings include a lawsuit demanding “legal personhood” be bestowed upon a chimpanzee, mold and mildew being found on some samples of marijuana, and the state of Wisconsin’s recent problems with public sex on a nude beach. All seem intriguingly bizarre at first glance, but none are exceptional by contemporary standards. At a time when progressives are eager to deny personhood to any people who join together as a corporation it is not surprising to hear they would grant the honor to a chimpanzee. With the legalization of marijuana a growing trend it is inevitable that the authorities will find ample reason to regulate to an extent that pot-heads will soon yearn for the days when weed was illegal and out of reach of the authorities. Wisconsin’s worries about public sex on nude beaches have a prurient interest, but we expect it will all be solved by the onset of a Wisconsin winter.
These occasional absences of big news are a prime opportunity to present big ideas, but we’re fresh out of those at the moment and easily distracted by filler.

– Bud Norman

After the Scandals

Each of the various scandals swirling around Washington are important on their own terms, as well as a source of guilty pleasure to right-wing bastards such as ourselves, but they will also have important implications in the policy squabbles that will continue long after the accusatory headlines have faded.
The Internal Revenue Service’s outrageous targeting of conservative groups, for instance, will now figure in at least two ongoing debates. Advocates of the flat tax, the fair tax, and other simplified tax systems have always claimed their proposals would eliminate the possibility of such politicized IRS actions, among other advantages, and the argument is made stronger by the latest revelations. Critics of the Obamacare law were concerned from the outset about how it grows the size and scope of the IRS, which will be empowered to enforce the controversial individual mandate and its host of new taxes, and those critics will also become more persuasive in their attempts at repeal.
A Justice Department probe that sought a suspiciously broad range of phone records from the Associated Press will affect a broader debate about the media’s peculiar relationship with the government in much the same way. It might even affect the media’s previously adoring perception of the government, potentially having all sorts of ramifications on the next few years of politics, and it might even affect the public’s perception of the much-maligned conservative news sources. Past Justice Department scandals, ranging from the decision to let the New Black Panthers loose on voter intimidation charges and stonewalling the Fast and Furious fiasco, could also be seen in a newly harsh light.
Continuing revelations about the incompetence that led to the Benghazi tragedy and the dishonesty that followed it will similarly inform future discussions of foreign policy. Those who argue for a more frank resistance to radical Islamists, rather than the sort of cultural relativism that would appease them with the imprisonment of anyone who dares criticize their views, will surely be bolstered in their efforts.
The cumulative effect of all the scandals can only create a greater public skepticism about the government’s abilities and integrity, which in turn affects everything. Almost every political issue pits those who would expand the size, scope, and cost of government against those who would limit it to the traditional essential chores of national defense, issuing a sound currency, enforcing contracts, security the liberties of the people, and a few modest attempts at promoting the general welfare. The latter group might not prevail, but they will be energized and the scandals can only help their cause.

– Bud Norman

The Lowdown On Low Info Voters

The most popular political cliché of the past election was “low information voter.” This newly identified category seems to have replaced “Soccer moms,” “NASCAR dads,” and “angry white men” as the hot bloc that every campaign simply must have.
Despite our usual aversion to neologisms we rather like this coinage, certainly more than any of its recent predecessors. We’ve never met anyone who could be adequately defined as a “Soccer mom” or “NASCAR dad,” and the many angry white men we’ve known are no angrier than the angry people of other races and sexes, but we’ve encountered so many low information voters over the years that it seems necessary they should have a name. “Low information voter” has a drearily sociological ring to it, and we would have preferred something more acerbic, but it will do.
The term is neatly self-explanatory, at least, describing someone who persists in exercising his franchise despite having little knowledge of the issues or candidates that he’s voting about. No one knows precisely how much of the electorate matches this description, but everyone agrees that it’s a sizeable share. There are enough of them, we’re sure, to determine the outcome of an election.
For many years it was the consensus of liberal opinion that the more ignorant voters were inclined to vote for Republican candidates, and such snobbery still stubbornly persists in some quarters The would-be wags at the Urban Dictionary site, for instance, define a low information voters as “One who votes based on information gleaned from other low information voters, rumors, viral emails, and FOX ‘News,’” and cites as an example someone who “will vote against labor unions” despite the unalloyed wonders wrought by the labor movement. Since the past election, however, even such impeccably liberal publications as The Hill were forced to admit that the Democrats are now winning the lion’s share of the low information voters.
Some Democratic partisans even point with pride to the Obama campaign’s careful courtship of the low information vote, a strategy that included the president’s penchant for appearing mainly on such entertainment shows as The View, Late Night with David Letterman, The Daily Show, and, as we never tire of mentioning, The Pimp With a Limp’s radio program. We stand by our frequent criticism that such appearances demean the dignity of the president and his office, but are now forced to concede that it is apparently shrewd politics.
Even without the president’s participation, though, the mass entertainment media that low information voters flock to provide a constant flow of propaganda that is helpful to the Democrats. Businessmen are almost invariably depicted as villains, religious people are routinely ridiculed, class resentments are encouraged, and everywhere a notion of “cool” explicitly associated with liberalism is celebrated. Most of the news media are just as bad, hyping every Republican misstep to a point that even the most determinedly uninformed voters will hear of it while avoiding any mention of the numerous Democratic scandals that would be front-page material if they had happened during an earlier administration. Those few outlets that do report information critical of Obama are easily ignored, and wind up with the word news put in sneering quote marks.
We’ve spoken with numerous Obama supporters who were blissfully unaware of the Fast and Furious fiasco or the Solyndra debacle, to mention just two of the embarrassing stories that somehow haven’t dogged the administration, and these people include regular readers of The New York Times and other supposedly respectable publications. More apolitical acquaintances of ours don’t know that the federal government has been borrowing a trillion dollars every nine months for the past four years, and when informed of the fact they don’t seem to understand that a trillion dollars is a significant amount of money. They feel entitled to revel in their intellectual superiority to Sarah Palin, though, and know all about the Republicans’ racist and sexist ways even if they can’t cite any examples of these character flaws.
Wooing these voters will be difficult for the Republicans. The Democrats’ tax-the-rich philosophy has a natural appeal to voters who have come through the egalitarian indoctrination of the public schools, for instance, and refuting it requires facts about the exceptionally progressive nature of the current tax system and talk of Laffer Curves and capital flight that seem to have a painful effect on the brain of a typical low information voter. Almost all of the arguments for conservatism are complex and often counter-intuitive, and none have the low-brow entertainment value of the President of the United States slow-jamming the news on the Jimmy Fallon show. The Democrats’ argument that they will give free stuff and the stingy Republicans won’t is quite simply understood, on the other hand, and the counter-argument involves less immediate consequences that the low information voter is content to wait for so long as the goodies keep coming.
So far the best advice the consultants can offer is that conservatives start schmoozing on the talk shows more often, and being as hip as possible when doing so, and that’s probably a good start so long as they don’t embarrass themselves in the process. A more effective solution will require changing the culture, though, and that’s going to be a lot more difficult than just enduring the company of the late night comedians who provide the low information to all those voters.

– Bud Norman

Viva la Univision

The Univision network isn’t a staple of our sparse television diet, mostly because we don’t habla español or watch soccer, but we must now tip our hat to the same good folks that give the world Sãbado Gigante. Although the network serves a mostly Hispanic audience, it did the entire nation a favor on Thursday by actually lobbing a few tough questions at Barack Obama.

This is such an unusual occurrence that the combative nature of the questions proved more newsworthy than the questionable answers they provoked. Even the reliably liberal Politico, which has had plenty of opportunities to pose a tough question or two, was forced to concede that Obama “faced some of the toughest questioning of his reelection campaign to date.”

Host Jorge Ramos demanded to know why the president had failed to pass a promised immigration reform law even when his party held overwhelming majorities in both chambers of Congress, prompting Obama to go right ahead and blame the Republicans Ramos, but Ramos retorted that “You promised that, and a promise is a promise, and with all due respect, you didn’t keep that promise.” Ramos was as aggressive in asking about the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning operation, which resulted in the death of more than 200 Mexicans as well as an American law enforcement agent, and when Obama blamed the Bush administration and some unnamed low-level employees Ramos posed a follow-up question about why Attorney General Eric Holder shouldn’t be fired.

Proving that Hispanics also care about the same national security issues as the rest of the right-thinking people in America, Ramos also asked some unexpectedly tough questions about the deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya. Ignoring the query about why the United States wasn’t better prepared for the violence, Obama continued to blame the incident on a rarely-seen and amateurishly produced movie and said that he was awaiting the results of investigation before concluding if the attack was terrorism.

Numerous stories have been published lately detailing the lax security at the consulate and the warnings from foreign governments that were ignored, all of them embarrassing to the administration, but most have come from the foreign press and none of them have gotten the screaming headlines and indignant broadcasts that would have surely occurred if such a screw-up had been committed a Republican administration. If Obama seemed a big weak in his response, it can be attributed to his surprise that anyone should ask such impertinent questions.

Obama’s odd lament that the most important lesson he’s learned as president “is that you can’t change Washington from the inside” has been getting some ink, mostly due to Mitt Romney’s immediate ridicule of the claim, but the bigger story is that the president finally got a taste of the press treatment that his opponents have endured.

– Bud Norman

What Do You Know?

A few days ago we were splashing around a friend’s backyard pool, a much appreciated invitation in a Kansas summer, and a woman of our mutual acquaintance who had dropped by made a complimentary remark about the wooden gateway and concrete base that our friend had recently built. “You didn’t build that,” we teased him, “somebody else made that happen.” Our friend chuckled knowingly at the witticism, but the woman of our mutual acquaintance was clearly perplexed by it. We helpfully explained that the remark was an allusion to President Barack Obama’s recent speech in Roanoke, Virginia, where he made the very same comment about America’s business owners, and she was not the least embarrassed to admit that she had no idea what we were talking about.

Her ignorance of the speech left us looking perplexed. After all, the speech had been widely reported by almost all of the media, touched off a week’s worth of debate among the chattering classes, been highlighted by a widely disseminated advertisement from the Romney campaign, and it’s “You didn’t built that” line had immediately become as iconic an epigram for Obama’s administration as “I didn’t have sex with that woman” had been for Bill Clinton’s. We had assumed that the phrase was by then as ubiquitous as a catch phrase from “Laugh-In” or “Seinfeld,” and that even the most obstinately ignorant Americans would be aware of it, so it came a surprise that such a sentient woman could have somehow been aware of it.

People do manage to avoid hearing of such things, though, and often enough that we really shouldn’t have been surprised by the woman’s apparently blissful ignorance. We can recall another conversation with a young fellow who boasted of how the current administration had gone three years without a single scandal, which he clearly regarded as a most remarkable accomplishment. We asked if he didn’t consider the Fast and Furious operation, with its Keystone Kops plotline and massive body count, or find the Solyndra fiasco, with its mix of high-minded “green” idealism and corrupt cronyism, to be scandals. We then threw in the resignations of admitted communist Van Jones and the Mao-admiring Anita Dunn, the Justice Department’s lax attitude towards black supremacist voter intimidation, and a few other choice contretemps, asking if he didn’t find any of these the least bit scandalous. He was not only unfamiliar with any of the stories, but dubious that they had happened at all, and angrily demanded to know if we had heard these scurrilous lies on the Fox network.

An aversion to news outlets that provide news challenging to one’s own opinions is part of the problem. Politically-minded people who only want to hear things that deify their guy and impugn the others can now easily find a suitable magazine, network or internet site. This phenomenon leads some media critics to pine for the old days when everyone in the country got their news from the same three networks, a few newsweeklies, or the lone daily newspaper, but it’s likely that if the old order were still in place even right-wing news junkies such as ourselves wouldn’t have heard anything in the past four years or so that suggests the current administration hasn’t been scandal-free and wildly successful in all its efforts.

A larger part of the problem, alas, is that so many people don’t bother to seek out any information on current events even in the most sympathetic media. In some cases this is a result of cynicism, in others mere apathy, and oftentimes plain old stupidity, but in no cases does it ever prevent the ignorant from feeling entitled to an opinion and a vote.

The determinedly unaware segment of the population tends to vote Democrat, or so we have observed, and for a variety of reasons. Those who don’t follow the news still wind up hearing the generally left-leaning views of late night comedians, movie stars, and other opinion-makers, and never hear of the arguments advanced by the less glamorous but better-informed pundits. Hearing the anti-business tirade that Obama launched in Roanoke might not have dissuaded the woman at the pool from voting for him, as she shares the president’s resentment of the prosperous entrepreneurs, but at least it would have forced to her form some coherent argument for her envy.

On the other hand, she might never hear that Mitt Romney is a dog-torturing, woman-hating, tax-evading cad who somehow made money by sending his businesses into bankruptcy and then killed a factory worker’s wife. She’s also unlikely to avoid the mounting evidence of economic decline that daily confronts everyone who has to work for a living, whether they ever pick up paper or not, and no one will get the opportunity to explain that it’s all the fault of the people who have been out of power the past several years.

She might even be unaware of when the election is to be held, and we were careful not to let her know.

– Bud Norman

Fast, Furious, Fercockta

An upcoming House vote on holding Attorney General Eric in contempt of Congress has forced reluctant news media to belatedly explain the Fast and Furious scandal, but so far no one has offered a satisfactory explanation of what the heck those government agents were thinking when they launched the now-infamous “botched law enforcement operation.” We don’t know, either, but offer the following scenario, an entirely fictitious account first presented as a skit at the annual Gridiron show, as one possibility.

(Scene opens at a hearing of a Senate investigating committee, with Senators Forehead, Cheeks, Chin and Lips seated at a table. Across from them is Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.)

SEN. FOREHEAD: This session of the Senate’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious will now come to order. Our first witness is Mr. Chip Wilson of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the man who devised this program. Mr. Wilson, could you please tell us what Operation Fast and Furious was all about?

WILSON: Certainly, Senator. Operation Fast and Furious was a program carried out by the BATF under the auspices of our supervisory agency, the Department of Justice. Basically, the program involved our facilitating the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to various Mexican drug gangs.

SEN. FOREHEAD: You purposely helped in the sale of 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?

SEN. CHEEKS: I’m sorry, Mr. Wilson, but I have to ask you this. Why on earth would you ever facilitate the sale of more than 2,000 guns, grenades, and other weapons to Mexican drug gangs?

WILSON: We wanted to see if anything bad would happen.

SEN. CHIN: Good lord, man, those guns have been linked to more than 200 murders. I think it’s fair to say that something bad did happen.

WILSON: Yes, and now we know. In that regard, at least, I think the operation has to be considered an unqualified success.

SEN. CHIN: Mr. Wilson, one of the murder victims was an American immigration agent. Several Mexican policemen and government officials were also killed.

WILSON: With all due respect, Senator, I don’t think it’s productive to quibble over who’s responsible for whose bloody murder. The important thing is that we now have definitive proof that Mexican drug gangs are not the kind of people you want to be selling heavy weaponry to. If you don’t think that’s important, Senator, well, frankly, I’m disappointed by how very incurious you are.

SEN. LIPS: Mr. Wilson, I am shocked that this cockamamie operation of yours ever won approval from the Department of Justice. When did Attorney General Holder learn of this?

WILSON: I recall that Attorney General Holder testified before this very committee that he learned of it in May of 2011, so I’ll go with that.

SEN. LIPS: We have e-mails from you and other officials discussing this matter with him that are dated well before that.

WILSON: Hmm.

SEN. FOREHEAD: What I’d like to know, Mr. Wilson, is how a person such as yourself ever wound up an employee of a federal agency.

WILSON: Well, Senator, ever since I was a kid there was nothing I loved more than drinkin’, smokin’ and shootin’ off guns. So when I heard that there was a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, well, it seemed a good fit. I soon discovered that I had been somewhat misled by the name about the kind of work they do there, but by then I was a government employee, and as you know, there was no getting rid of me at that point.

SEN. CHEEKS: Mr. Wilson, do you have any professional or academic credentials for your job?

WILSON: Well … KU. Senator, if it makes you feel any better, I have recently accepted a reassignment and will be leaving my current post.

SEN. FOREHEAD: Well, I’m sure we can all be grateful for that.

WILSON: Yes, I’m taking over the administration of the new health care program. It should be very interesting to see what might go wrong there.

– Bud Norman

Faster and Furiouser

This Fast and Furious business keeps getting worse for the Obama administration.

A House oversight committee voted on Wednesday to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over requested documents about the “gun-walking” fiasco, and it’s likely that next week the full House will do the same. Most Americans hold Congress in some degree of contempt, and Holder’s invocation of executive privilege raises the sort of complicated legal issues that send the average voter in search of a celebrity sex scandal or a box score, but the story should nonetheless undermine public confidence in the president and his appointees to some extent.

A contempt of Congress vote is the sort of thing that the major media outlets feel obliged to report on, no matter how much they’d prefer to ignore it, and in this case it will require that they give their readers and viewers some background information about the Fast and Furious operation. A government program that provided Mexican drug gangs with thousands of weapons and resulted in the death of an American law enforcement agent and hundreds of Mexicans apparently is the sort of that major media outlets don’t feel obliged to report on, at least not during a Democratic administration, and even the fact that an Attorney General’s sworn testimony was contradicted by documents  got little play in the news, so many Americans will be hearing the basic facts of the scandal for the first time. None of those facts reflect well on the administration, nor do any of them have anything whatsoever to do with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, so the best that the Obama campaign and its media allies can hope for is to limit the damage.

Holder’s refusal to turn over the documents is seemingly part of the damage control effort, but it will inevitably raise suspicions about what it is that he doesn’t want the public to know. Given how very embarrassing the already known facts are, and the political cost of provoking a contempt vote that puts the tragic story into prominent play, the obvious conclusion is that the documents are pretty darned damning.

The rest of the Democrats’ responses seem similarly counter-productive. The ever-loyal Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is blaming the Bush administration, even after Holder’s Justice Department officially gave up on that ploy, while other Democratic apologists are blaming the controversy on Republican racism, even though the charge necessarily implies that the death of a couple hundred Mexicans is no big deal. We suspect that many Americans are already weary of hearing Bush and racism offered as excuses for the administration’s failings, and in this case it will likely prove especially grating.

Scandals that don’t directly affect the average voter’s pocketbook rarely prove decisive in an election, even when the major news media are inclined to stoke public outrage, but this one can only hurt the president’s chances. It will be hard to argue that same people who ran the Fast and Furious operation should be entrusted to run the economy.

– Bud Norman

School for Scandals

A Democrat friend of ours — we have several of them, for some reason — assures us that the recent scandals arising from the Fast and Furious operation and a series of national security leaks won’t have any effect on the president’s re-election bid. This seems to be a common assumption among Democrats, including the president.

They’re right to the extent that the economy will be the most important issue in the race, and they have ample reason to be cynical about the public’s interest in complicated stories that don’t directly affect the average American’s pocketbook, but we suspect that they’re underestimating how very bad these stories make them look. With official investigations underway and a bi-partisan outrage simmering in Congress, even the friendliest news media are finding it impossible to continue ignoring the scandals, and they will have nothing to report that isn’t embarrassing to the administration.

The House Oversight Committee will vote next week on whether to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress for withholding requested documents about the Fast and Furious operation, which is the kind of thing that major news organizations are obliged to report no matter how distasteful they might find it, and the stories will necessarily entail informing the public that there was a Fast and Furious operation to begin with. This can only be hurtful to the re-election as there is no way of explaining the cockamamie scheme, which entailed permitting the sale of hundreds of weapons to Mexican drugs gangs and predictably resulted in hundreds of deaths, that doesn’t make the administration seem dangerously incompetent. The stories will also have to acknowledge the fact that Holder has indeed been withholding the requested documents, raising the inescapable suspicion that those documents must contain something that the administration is very eager to conceal. Every story will also remind the public that Eric Holder is the Attorney General of the United States, another fact that can only undermine confidence in the man who appointed him.

After helping the Clinton administration arrange the presidential pardon for notorious fugitive financier and loyal campaign contributor Marc Rich, Holder came into his office with a questionable reputation, then proceeded to further infuriate his many critics by dropping a won case of voter intimidation against members of the New Black Panther Party, lecturing the American people about their cowardly reluctance to engage in conversation about race, forcing states into court for enforcing their immigration and voting laws, seeking a criminal court trial on American soil for terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and generally being an annoyance to the country. Several congressmen have lately demanded that Holder resign for his role in Fast and Furious, and at this point he must be considered a political liability for the administration.

The perception that Holder is a political actor rather than an impartial law enforcement official has spilled over to the controversy about the four major security breaches that have recently wound up on the front pages of The New York Times and The Washington Post. Holder has appointed two Justice Department officials to look into the matter, one of them an Obama campaign contributor, but congressional Republicans are understandably skeptical about their impartiality and are therefore demanding a special investigator. Special investigators are another of those things that major news media feel obliged to report, and the results are never pretty. In this case there are serious concerns about the government’s ability to protect the country, and the details all undermine the president’s carefully cultivated tough-on-terrorism image.

Worse yet, there is nothing in these stories that can plausibly be blamed on Republicans in general or Mitt Romney in particular, and thus far no one has come up with a convincing spin that makes Obama look good. The scandals are bad for the president’s re-election, and it’s only a question of how bad.

– Bud Norman

Losing at Small Ball

The economy is the big story in the presidential race, of course, but all the small stories also have some cumulative effect. Looking over the latest offerings in the news, the small stories also seem be going to badly for the incumbent.

A group of four prominent legislators — including the impeccably liberal Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California — held a joint news conference Thursday to announce that they are thoroughly irked about a recent spate of leaks of classified information. These include a New York Times report about the American role in a computer virus that targeted Iran’s nuclear program, an Associated Press report about the latest “underwear bomber” that revealed a western spy in Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate, another New York Times story about the president’s weekly “kill list” of drone assassination targets, and stories in the New York Times and Britain’s Guardian that led to the identification of a Pakistani doctor who helped provide information for the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden. In each case there is a suspicion that the leaks were intended to bolster the president’s tough-on-terrorism reputation, which has apparently replaced the soft-on-terrorism sales pitch of ’08, and there are further allegations that the White House leaked information to a Hollywood director making a movie that glorifies Obama’s role in the bin Laden raid.

The “Fast and Furious” operation, which involved the U.S. government intentionally allowing the sale of hundreds of weapons to Mexican drug gangs and resulted in more than 200 murder, is also back in the news. The basic facts of the scandal have always been embarrassing to the administration, at least to the extent that they’ve been widely reported, but Thursday made it even worse. Forced to answer questions from the House Judiciary Committee, despite a months-long effort at stonewalling, Attorney General Eric Holder wound up insisting that internal Justice Department memos which specifically mentioned a Fast and Furious operation weren’t actually referring to that Fast and Furious operation. Holder’s interrogator, Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, seemed unimpressed with the answer, as will most Americans paying attention. Even the usually supportive sections of the press, and although they’ll try to help out by keeping the story short and at the bottom of an inside page it will be hard to ignore the story once Holder is cited for contempt of Congress or perhaps indicted for perjury.

There has also been a great deal of speculation about former President Bill Clinton’s apparent effort to sabotage the Obama campaign. After his statements about the current president provided the title for the latest Obama-bashing best-seller, “The Amateur,” Clinton took to the newscasts to defend Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s record as a private equity investor at Bain Capital, then to announce that the country was in recession and needed to retain all of the Bush-era tax rates. He was also heard boasting of the four balanced budgets that he signed as president, which can reasonably be taken as an implied criticism of Obama’s more profligate ways, and seemed to quite enjoy the widespread speculation that his statements had provoked. He later apologized, a Clinton specialty, but even in doing so he seemed to damn Obama with such faint praise as “a better job than some people give him credit for.”

With mighty effort we have composed an entire paragraph about Clinton without resorting to a fellatio joke, but we’re now forced to address the matter of Obama’s alleged cunnilingus joke. While speaking in Los Angeles at yet another of a seeming non-stop series of fundraisers, Obama mentioned his wife’s televised push-up contest with talk show hostess Ellen Degeneres and remarked that Michelle was accused of cheating by her rival “because she doesn’t go all the way down.” Given that Degeneres is famously lesbian, that going all the way down has a certain gutter connotation, and that Obama delivered the line with the beat-and-a-half timing of a Shecky Greene, provoking nervous laughter from his show biz-savvy audience, the line was taken as a risqué double-entendre. Obama denies it, naturally, but his denial is approximately as convincing as Holder’s claim that the Justice Department memos were raving about the “Fast and Furious” movie franchise.

There’s also the new documentary evidence that Obama did belong to an avowedly socialist third party during the ‘90s, which he denied back in ’08, and too many other stories to list here. The security leaks and the Fast and Furious fiasco are important stories in their own right, while the rest are just something for the pundits to talk about, but all have the effect of painting the administration as power-hungry, incompetent, dishonest, and increasingly absurd. This is in turn will inevitably raise doubts about Obama’s ability to revive the economy, which is still the big story of the presidential race.

– Bud Norman

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