The Audacity of Disappointment
The timing of so many sensational American crime stories packed together -- Jodi Arias, Ariel Castro, Kermit Gosnell -- were a news cycle boon that gave President Obama some precious time to prepare for a fast approaching storm of scandals while the media and public attention were focused elsewhere. Thus, one would have hoped that Obama could ready a far better response than he has offered thus far to the dizzying array of problems and scandals that have blown up: Benghazi-gate, Associated Press-gate, and IRS-gate. Instead, Obama's approach resembles his passive mishandling of the mess in Syria: hoping others solve the problem for him, acting only when external forces absolutely require it and only after devastating and irreversible damage has already been done.
As bad as each of the unfolding scandals might have been in isolation, they are collectively far more ruinous because each one independently suggests the same thing: an administration that has breached the public trust, violated constitutional values, and abused its power -- particularly when that power might be checked by the will of the people at elections. As if the total threat posed by all three scandals weren't potent enough, two of them involve aggravating factors: 1) The IRS's targeting of conservative groups undermines public trust in an already reviled government agency (just when Obama wants to raise more taxes) and amounts to an unconstitutional attack on political activity. 2) The Associated Press scandal has antagonized the very media that has so loyally backed the President until now. Because of the potential impact on a free press, the Department of Justice's secret seizure of AP journalists' phone records has also alarmed liberal politicians, commentators, non-profits, and other forces that would normally defend the president and his policies.
With so many crises at hand, one would have expected a far more effective response than White House spokesman Jay Carney's repetition of the same irrelevant talking points. Indeed, all three scandals -- and their mishandling -- reinforce the impression of a White House that is either drunk with power or ineptly out of control.
While it is hardly obvious how any leader overcomes so many serious scandals hitting all at the same time, Obama could have at least projected the image of a leader who promptly recognizes a crisis of confidence, seizes the initiative, and tries to do the right thing. But instead of reassuring the public -- before (or at least when) each scandal broke -- that his top priority was now investigating and addressing each issue as soon as possible, Obama looks like any other politician clinging to power however he can, volunteering nothing until compelled to do so. Because Obama has proactively managed none of these scandals, each new fact that trickles out spawns more damaging speculation. The public is left to wonder: was the Obama administration so determined to win reelection that it not only whitewashed the September 11 attacks in Benghazi, but also used the IRS to weaken political opponents? Did its reelection strategy rely so heavily on the we-killed-Osama-and-beat-terrorism narrative that it penalized the Associated Press for issuing a May 7, 2012 report that weakened that idea?
The biggest loser from all of these scandals is the American voter. So many people wanted to believe that Obama was somehow different: more grounded, more ethical, more committed to some lofty ideal that had eluded prior politicians. The audacity of disappointment involves cultivating a cult of personality with soaring oratory and then letting down all of those faithful voters with politics as usual. Obama supporters became so inebriated with fantasies about his administration that their vision of the inconvenient facts along the way blurred -- until there were too many questions to ignore. In the end, any president -- even one who is charming, eloquent, and truly historic in his ability to create what might be called a post-racial presidency -- is still human. With the United States facing so many problems in 2008, Obama's apotheosis was perhaps inevitable. But in 2013, the reality revealed by scandal after scandal is starting to feel like a bad hangover from Election Day punch spiked for victory.
For the sake of this country, his legacy, and global security, Obama should promptly come clean on all scandals. The longer he stonewalls, the more these distractions will consume his entire second term, waste resources, and jeopardize vital American interests on numerous pressing issues: Iranian and North Korean nukes, long-term solutions to U.S. debt/budget problems, persistent unemployment, tax reform, the Syrian civil war, and countless other problems.
Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, a doomsday thriller about the Iranian nuclear threat and current geopolitical issues in the Middle East.