It’s getting to where I find Peggy Noonan more and more tiresome, but keep reading, hoping for flashes of the grace and thoughtfulness I used to admire.
Her column over the weekend was a typical sad example. An excerpt:
The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking, and the Justice Department assault on the free press, in which dogged reporters are tailed like enemy spies, is shocking. Benghazi is still under investigation and someday someone will write a great book about it. As for the press, Attorney General Eric Holder is on the run, and rightly so. They called it the First Amendment for a reason. But nothing can damage us more as a nation than what is happening at the Internal Revenue Service. Elite opinion in the press and in Washington doesn’t fully understand this. Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.
Those who aren’t deeply distressed about the IRS suffer from a reluctance or inability to make distinctions, and a lack of civic imagination.
An inability to make distinctions: “It’s always been like this.” “Presidents are always siccing the IRS on their enemies.” There’s truth in that. We’ve all heard the stories of the president who picked up the phone and said, “Look into this guy,” Richard Nixon most showily. He got clobbered for it. It was one of the articles of impeachment.
But this scandal is different and distinctive. The abuse was systemic—from the sheer number of targets and the extent of each targeting we know many workers had to be involved, many higher-ups, multiple offices. It was ideological and partisan—only those presumed to be of one political view were targeted. It has a single unifying pattern: The most vivid abuses took place in the years leading up to the president’s 2012 re-election effort. And in the end several were trying to cover it all up, including the head of the IRS, who lied to Congress about it, and the head of the tax-exempt unit, Lois Lerner, who managed to lie even in her public acknowledgment of impropriety.
It wasn’t a one-off. It wasn’t a president losing his temper with some steel executives. There was no enemies list, unless you consider half the country to be your enemies.
Let’s just list a few of the things wrong with those few paragraphs:
- “The Benghazi scandal was and is shocking…” I’m not yet persuaded that “Benghazi” actually is a scandal, despite the efforts of people I respect, such as Lindsey Graham and John McCain, to portray it as such. Much less that it is widely accepted among others, outside of certain Republican circles. Much, much less that it is not only a scandal, but a shocking one. Yet she begins her column throwing it out there as something that doesn’t even need discussion, as an established fact on the way to what she really wants to talk about. It’s like she’s gotten into the habit of writing only for people on the right. She assumes all her readers think Benghazi is a shocking scandal, and she goes ahead and acknowledges that out of hand. It’s like there are no other kinds of readers out there looking at her column. And if she keeps writing like this, she’ll be right in that assumption.
- “Part of the reason is that it’s not their ox being gored, it’s those messy people out in America with their little patriotic groups.” Really? Tell me again which ox was gored. “Gore” means to deliver a serious, perhaps fatal, wound. Did any of these “patriotic little groups,” a characterization we could debate all day, lose their ability to do what they do? Were they indeed “gored”?
- Richard Nixon is mentioned, followed by “But this scandal is different and distinctive.” As in, she implies, worse.
What Richard Nixon did with regard to the IRS was indeed an article of impeachment. Because of the abuses of power that he, Richard Nixon, carried out.
Excuse me, but I have yet to see the evidence that indicates, even remotely, that Barack Obama was involved in this mess over at the IRS. (Please give me a link if I’ve missed it.)
And this particular scandal has been proceeding how long? A month or so? (Actually, the first press reports were in March 2012.) I seem to recall that the Watergate scandal connected directly to the White House on Day One. Reporter Bob Woodward, then a nobody, was assigned to go cover the arraignment of some guys caught breaking into Democratic headquarters, and that day found that one of them worked in the White House.
Yeah, pretty different, all right.
Oh, and by the way, I should probably say for the benefit of Steven Davis and others who labor under the delusion that I’m a Democrat or something: I don’t say “Barack Obama isn’t Nixon” because I think Obama is so awesome and Nixon was pure evil.
If I’d been old enough to vote in 1968, I’d have voted for Nixon, without hesitation. For that matter, I was solidly for him in 1960, although you may discount that because I was only 7 years old. I would have voted for him in 1972, the first time I ever voted, if not for Watergate. I pulled the lever for McGovern after standing and debating with myself in the booth for about 10 minutes. I firmly believed that Nixon was the better president — in fact, I was convinced that McGovern would be a disaster. But I was also convinced that the Democrat had zero chance, so this seemed like a safe way to register my concerns about Watergate.
(I did the same thing, only with the parties reversed, in 1996. I respected Bob Dole more as a man than I did Bill Clinton. But Dole had run such a horrendous campaign that I doubted his ability to be a good president. I actually thought Clinton better suited to the job. But I had a lot of problems with Clinton by this time and, knowing that Dole had no chance of winning, I pulled the lever for him as a protest.)
Nixon was in a number of important ways a pretty good president, on the big things. Probably better than Obama in a number of ways (although I haven’t thought deeply about that, and it’s difficult to compare, since the challenges facing them are so different). But his abuse of power on stupid, petty things did him in. And I’ve seen no evidence so far Barack Obama has done anything of that kind.
So no — Obama’s not as bad as Nixon in this regard, much less worse. It’s not even close.