Will Rogers used to preface his humorous observations on the political scene by stating that “All I know is what I read in the papers,” which always got a big laugh back in the Great Depression days, and it’s still a good line for a folksy humorist. President Barack Obama is fond of the same disclaimer, however, but it doesn’t suit his job as well.
The latest development that the president only became aware of by reading the morning papers was former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail account. The practice posed a security risk, kept records from public scrutiny, and seems in violation of federal regulations, so we can only imagine the the president’s alarm upon learning about such a serious matter. One might wonder how the president failed to notice it during the four Clinton served as his Secretary of State, during which time one can only assume there was some e-mail communication between the two, but so far no one in the press has been so rude as to ask about it. If they ever do, the president will probably have to await the morning papers to learn of his response.
If not for the press, a number of serious situations might have entirely escaped the president’s attention. The invaluable Sheryl Atkisson, demonstrating again the lese majeste that led to her departure from CBS News, has helpfully compiled a list of seven other times that the president professed to be shocked by press accounts of major stories. It starts way back in the early days of the Obama administration with Air Force One buzzing the State of Liberty and frightening the understandably skittish New Yorkers, continues with the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme at the Department of Justice, then the sex scandal involving Central Intelligence Agency director Gen. David Petraeus, and of course the Internal Revenue Service’s harassment of conservative non-profit groups, then the seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, then the National Security Agency’s spying on foreign leaders, and then the phony record keeping to cover up the substandard care being provided by the Veterans Administration. One of the commenters at Atkisson’s site mentions several more, including the problems leading up to the disastrous roll-out of the Obamacare web site, but they’re too numerous mention.
That portion of the public still devoted to the president seems willing to give him a pass on these problems, since he presumably didn’t know they were going on would surely have done something about it if he did, but the rest of us are entitled to some concern about his inability to keep abreast of what’s going on in his government. We suppose the president can’t keep up on everything, what with all the golfing and fund-raising and appeasing his job entails, but Air Force One and the DOJ and the CIA and the IRS and the NSA and the VA and the State Department are all under the purview of the executive brand and ultimately the responsibility of the chief executive. We can’t recall the heads of any high officials rolling for their failure to notify the president of the major developments unfolding on his watch, except for former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who also seemed surprised to find out about that Obamacare web site, and the president never seems at all embarrassed to say that some ink-stained wretches who have to file Freedom of Information Act requests and wait to get their phone calls returned and accept “no comments” on the first many tries somehow knew better than the president what was going on in the executive branch.
Perhaps the president was aware of these many problems as they occurred but was unable or unwilling to deal with them, but if so that is a problem. Perhaps the government is simply too vast for any one person to know what it is up to, but if so that’s also a problem, and one that the president seems determined to compound by vastly expanding both the government and the executive branch’s control over it. The biggest problem is that if you only know what you read in the papers, you don’t know much.
— Bud Norman