Tuesday, January 3, 2017

No scandals? Different, perhaps, but not none

Talk has turned again, as in 2012, to the claim that the most recent administration has been scandal free. Every time I see this claim, I marvel at the audacity. Instinctively I begin to run down the list - IRS, Fast and Furious, Solyndra, etc. But the list is so long.

Fortunately, there is Obama's 'Scandal-Free' Administration Was Actually Riddled with Scandals by Debra Heine that creates a working, but incomplete, list. Among the scandals:
DOJ Black Panther whitewash
Obamafication of NEA art
Sestak affair
Politically expedient IG Gerald Walpin firing
Misspent stimulus funds
DOJ’s secret astroturf propaganda unit
Blagojevich/Rezko /Obama corruption
Obama's unaccountable czars
Fast and Furious
The Gibson Guitar Raid
DOJ spying on the media
State Department war on whistleblowers
Four EPA scandals
The "gag order" at the Department of Energy
VA scandal
Deliberate misrepresentation of ObamaCare
Skewing of ISIS intel
Iran deception and ransom payment
Bowe Bergdahl
The EPA's polluting of the Colorado River
The GSA scandal
The Secret Service sex scandal
Benghazi video claims
FOIA obstruction
Operation Chokepoint
I think Heine stretches on some of these and I have added a few that seem to have been overlooked.

However, it is not a scandal free administration by any stretch of the imagination. But is there something different about these scandals compared to prior administrations? It seems that in my living memory there are three broad categories of scandal - Sex, Money, and Policy. Around sex it generally has to do with affairs or prostitutes. The earliest I can think of is Fanny Foxe back in 1974. With regard to money, and also from that era, there was Abscam from the late 1970s. In terms of policy scandals, there was Iran-Contra in the mid-1980s.

In these three categories, there have been dozens and dozens of cases over the past thirty or forty years. Is there anything different from the list in the Obama administration? Perhaps there is.

Looking at the list above, I suspect the Obama scandals, on average, have less to do with sex and money than in the past. There are policy scandals certainly. But there is more. It looks to me like Obama has resurrected a category of scandal that was reasonably squelched after Nixon. There seem to be a disproportionate number of "political" scandals in the sense of the administration breaking the law in order to either 1) accomplish its own goals or to 2) hide its real purposes from the public. Scandals to do with the pursuit of an Imperial Presidency to resurrect a Nixon era term. All administrations are prone to this and there was a resurgence under Bill Clinton but by-and-large, it seems to me that political scandals were fewer in number post-Nixon and certainly in proportion compared to the most recent Obama administration.

There seems also a second difference. Compared to recent administrations, it seems to me that most of these scandals have been allowed to disappear from the media pretty quickly and that there have been few personal consequences to administration personnel. I can think of Lois Lerner in the IRS scandal having to retire early, and one or two Veterans Administration leaders were forced out of their appointed positions but by-and-large, it seems like it has been rare for the Obama administration to actually punish wrong-doers if they were part of the administration.

In terms of how quickly the scandals are allowed to die, despite the best efforts of clean-government advocacy groups and certainly the Republicans, I don't know if that is because the press has been closely aligned with the Obama administration or whether the scandals are too complicated for sustained public interest or whether scandals that are not sex or money-based just have less of the salaciousness that sells papers. For whatever reason though, they seem to disappear from the front pages very quickly.

I find all of this interesting from an epistemological perspective. The facts are out there but are being discounted or ignored. How do we learn and improve when there seems such a conscious effort to rewrite or suppress very recent history?

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