January 19, 2017 | by Chris Stirewalt
One of the closing arguments for President Obama and his team has been the absence of scandal in his administration.
And if you look at it just right, it’s true. But you kind of have to squint a little to see it.
What they mean is that there have been no personal scandals like the ones that rocked Bill Clinton’s administration. There have been no allegations of personal corruption, no tawdriness of an, ahem, personal nature, and no major meltdowns.
Nobody got arrested, nobody got sued for sexual harassment and nobody took a bribe. And unlike this time eight years ago, the president is not crassly cashing in on his last hours in power (or carting off the White House furnishings.) )
Surely the nation should be grateful for the service and good ethical conduct of the president and his subordinates – just as the nation should have been grateful for the service and good conduct of the Bush administration. Neither bunch demeaned the office of the president with cheap or sleazy personal scandals.
That’s a good thing. But that seems to be setting the bar rather low, doesn’t it?
A scandal is properly understood as wrongdoing resulting in public outrage. That doesn’t cover errors in well-intentioned judgement or execution. And under that definition, history will record plenty in the past eight years.
Obama’s Justice Department was a particularly bubbling cauldron.
Most recently, we had the meeting between Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Hillary Clinton’s husband while the former Democratic nominee was being investigated by the department. That was a doozy.
But there were more.
The “Fast and Furious” botched gunning-running sting that dumped illegal weapons in the American Southwest and even into the hands of Mexican drug cartels started as a lapse of judgment but became a scandal when Obama exerted executive privilege to shield then-Attorney General Eric Holder from congressional scrutiny.
Holder’s Justice Department also delivered the scandal surrounding Obama’s crackdown on the press. Forgotten in some of the current denunciations of President-elect Donald Trump’s distain for journalists are the unprecedented steps Obama and his administration took against reporters.
Under Holder’s watch, the Justice Department spied on reporters, prosecuted leakers and did so unrepentantly.
Holder was also part of a scandal that stunk up the Treasury Department. Who could ever forget the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS? Wait, all the Democrats did. But if we were being honest, we would say that the targeting and Holder’s subsequent slow-walking of the investigation was an abuse of power that would have made Richard Nixon blush.
That’s one that Democrats probably wish they had to do over again. As they stand on tiptoes, ready for outrageous behavior from the Trump administration, Democrats would be in a stronger position to decry misconduct if they had roused themselves to even modest outrage about the IRS.
There’s no suggestion Obama ordered the misconduct, but the lack of a rigorous response came close to tacit approval. No one would have thought the president was concerned
The most famous, most divisive scandal of Obama’s tenure was, of course, the doctored talking points surrounding the raid by Islamist militants on the U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya.
Allegations surrounding the attack have included some truly deplorable claims, including that Obama and his national security team chose to let Americans die for ulterior motives.
In fact, the claims were so audacious that it ended up obscuring the incontrovertible scandal in the story: that the administration knowingly misled the American public about the nature of the attack in order to push a narrative more favorable to Obama in the fall of an election year.
Lying about the cause of an attack that killed Americans to win an election may not be graft or personal corruption, but it is surely a scandal.
Lying to win an election also covers Obama’s famous pledge that Americans could keep their insurance policies and doctors under his health law. We would only subsequently find out that this wasn’t happy talk from Obama but more likely willful, knowing misleading.
Again, the absence of personal scandals among Obama and his team is a good thing and one for which the public should be grateful. Avoiding embarrassing distractions isn’t just good politics, it sets a good example for the rest of the country.
But to shorthand that as “scandal free” does a disservice to the truth and to our proper understanding of the past eight years.