About seven months ago, I wrote a blog entitled “Bush League” in which I criticized the Obama administration for a series of deceptions and management blunders, suggesting that if such had been the case when George W. Bush was president, I would have been howling for his head. As I lamented, “The current fiascos reach a level of organizational dysfunction not seen since Jimmy Carter.” I referred first, to the White House’s obvious political attempt to deny that the Benghazi attack was an organized act of terrorism; second, to their reckless and illegal use of the IRS to target the Tea Party; and third, to their pathetically paranoid attempt to identify “leakers” by hacking the Associated Press emails. While I could not say that the president himself had authorized or even knew about any of it, even if true, that would not excuse him from heading an administration that was out of control.
Little did we know that we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
Little did we know of the National Security Administration’s massive collection of data involving the phone calls and emails of American citizens, and their listening to the cell phone conversations of world leaders including our friends and allies. While these were not actions originated by President Obama, he has obviously approved, continued and perhaps even expanded them. The technogibberish with which he and his spokespeople try to explain what information is actually being gathered, while assuring us that our emails and phone conversations are not being read or heard, is hardly reassuring when we learn that the calls of heads of state are regularly monitored. Nor is the justification that all governments that can, continually listen in on each other, or the vague and unsupported claim that the NSA’s invasion of our citizen’s privacy have resulted in the prevention of unspecified terrorist attacks.
Certainly, there is a valid debate about the necessary balance between the need to gather information about threats to national security and our constitutional guarantees of privacy against government intrusion. But when the NSA and CIA operate behind a shroud of secrecy only penetrable under threat of prosecution for treason, any debate quickly degenerates into the realm of “catch 22.” Where Mr. Obama stands on this issue is thus far largely unintelligible. At least we could count on his predecessor’s proactive penchant for ignoring the Constitution.
And given the conflicting opinions coming from Federal judges, the NSA activities will probably be adjudicated by the Supreme Court whose recent rulings should not lead us to expect much in the way of moral, legal or constitutional clarity. But to be fair to the Chief Justice, we haven’t been getting much of that from the Chief Executive either.
And little did we know of the looming fiasco of the Affordable Healthcare rollout, highlighting not just the administration’s massive managerial incompetence but even worse, a presidential promise that was nothing less than an outright and deceitful lie. The irony is that while we, the people, didn’t know that the technology wouldn’t work and that the promise that anyone who liked their health insurance could keep it was blatantly untrue, the president knew, or should have known, both. But as we have seen all too often, this is not a president who cares about or has any patience for the nitty-gritty of politics or practicalities of policy. So the best that can be said for Mr. Obama is that he has created an atmosphere in which his people did not want to annoy him first, with what everyone with half a technological brain knew — that the systems to support the healthcare signup wouldn’t work in time, and second, that his assurance to the contrary to the millions of people who eventually lost their healthcare was totally and predictably false. The president’s halfhearted acceptance of his personal accountability for both the cyber screw-up and the cynical lie is only compounded by his failure to publically hold anyone responsible.
Just when we thought this administration had nowhere to go but up, they managed to mismanage their way to new lows. At least President Obama does deserve credit, in my opinion, for holding his ground against the Republicans’ latest foray into financial irresponsibility, hypocrisy and blackmail, which again backfired to the point that they may finally realize their insanity of repeating the same tactic and expecting a different result. And the ensuing bipartisan but half-baked budget deal was better (barely) than no loaf at all.
At the end of the president’s first year of his second term, I can only hope that this administration will not continue to find new ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of his reelection victory. As I just noted about Republican insanity, perhaps the president needs to realize the futility of expecting different results from the same advisors and staff who specialize in foul-ups and failures. Despite the irony of using George W. Bush as an example, he did after all fire Rumsfeld and stop listening to Cheney.