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

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