Hal G. P. Colebatch: Commander ‘n Cheat

Why Obama’s Scandals are worse than Watergate

Amid new revelations about state surveillance, HAL G. P. COLEBATCH fears we are sliding towards totalitarianism as freedoms are chipped away

In his inauguration speech of 1981, US President Ronald Reagan stated:

“We are a country that has a government – not the other way round.”

The gulf between these sentiments and the style of the Obama administration is a stark illustration of how the strongest and proudest of political cultures can go rotten in a few years.

The Obama administration has given up even attempting to hide its corruption and its perversion of the US executive power for political ends.

Even its poodle-in-chief, The New York Times, has at last come to find it indefensible in its abuse of the taxation service.

There is no doubt that the US – and this flows on to affect its friends and allies as well – is suffering the worst and most openly criminal government in the history of the Republic in modern times, and probably the worst ever. The vital factor of confidence in the institutions of government has been, in the US, drastically undermined at a time when it has seldom been more needed.

It is hard to know if Obama himself is a deeply incompetent amateur, unaware of the consequences of his actions, or a deliberate wrecker, though a certain strain of cunning suggests the latter.

At present no “smoking gun” links him directly to the scandals and abuse of government instrumentalities but that is not necessary, just as no document links Hitler directly to the Holocaust: everyone knows who is responsible. Without Obama and his henchmen’s encouragement it would never have happened.

The day after the Benghazi massacre Obama promised, almost as a matter of course, that the killers would be brought to justice. It was an open and openly-accepted lie. No one believed him and of course nothing has been done. Dr Afridi, who made possible the execution of Osama bin Laden, is still a tortured prisoner in a Pakistani jail. There is no evidence of a determined US effort to free him apart from feeble diplomatic protests, though the US certainly had the requisite “soft power” if it cares to deploy it.

These might be simply matters of bad and weak government. However, the Obama administration’s blatant and admitted misuse of the taxation system to punish political opponents is something new and deadly dangerous in Western politics.

What was perhaps the greatest source of strength for the English-speaking peoples during the Cold War, and indeed in World War II before that, was a generally-accepted feeling that their governments – of which that of the United States was the most important – were, on the whole and despite the shortcomings of certain individuals, fair, honest and incorrupt. This enabled the West to not only survive the age of the Totalitarian State, but to emerge from it victorious and still largely free.

This was not, of course, a general human condition. It made the English-speaking countries and what is loosely known as “The West”, largely exceptional.

The Obama administration appears to be cutting the cords of national unity that held the Western system of values together. Its Government has already acquired a Third-World look.

US Professor of Law Warren L. Dean has written, comparing the present IRS scandal – targeting Republican, Tea Party and other anti-‘Democrat and anti-Obama groups – to Watergate, the only recent US scandal of even remotely comparable magnitude:

“This is far worse than the burglary at the Watergate in Washington. This particular offense was directed at traditional, law-abiding Americans all over the country and involved chilling and widespread abuses of federal power.

“Another important difference is that the Watergate burglars were not government employees. No government agency was implicated in the initial break-in. This time around, the misconduct is taking place in what may be the most powerful — and feared — government agency in the country.

To ordinary Americans, it looks like the IRS spent taxpayer money to conduct a potentially criminal enterprise directed at the Americans who pay their salary. It was not only wrong, it was a betrayal of the public’s trust in government. At this stage, the IRS scandal is far more serious than the initial Watergate break-in.

“It is also clumsier, if that’s possible. The head of the IRS office responsible for the misconduct tried to get ahead of the report of the inspector general with a planted question-and-answer at a bar association meeting. There, she apologized for what she described as activities that were “wrong.” She then insisted to Congress that she had done nothing “wrong,” and then pleaded the Fifth Amendment” [Refusing to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate her]. “Her performance made Nixon’s plumbers look like surgeons.”

More might be said: Watergate reached the proportion it did because it was part of a political brawl in which a President, in the midst of a difficult war, showed excessive loyalty to his own Party workers and, not unreasonably in the circumstances, confused political opposition with national treason. To repeat Professor Dean’s point, no government employees were involved. Nixon, a veteran of World War II, had some reason at the time of Watergate for thinking “Anything goes” but at bottom Nixon’s motives, however clumsily he handled the situation, were to safeguard US interests, not to institutionalise the use of the US Government in his own interests and those of his cronies against the opposition. Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, among others, were involved in playing pool at least as dirty as Nixon, but none of them sought to debauch the institutions of the US Government against the people of America for their own ends. With the Obama administration’s abuse of the IRS, we are seeing noting less than a coup d’etat against the republic.

In Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons” there is a famous passage in where the young lawyer, Roper, says he would cut down every law to get to the Devil. Sir Thomas More asks him who would protect him then when the Devil turned upon him, all the laws being down. The situations are not exactly parallel, but the lesson is the same in both: without the rule of law, which means the universally-respected rule of law, no-one in the whole State, or indeed the life of the State itself, is safe.