“…statements in the [group’s] case file criticize how the country is being run.”
-- One of the criteria used by IRS investigators to target small-government groups for special scrutiny, according to an agency audit provided to congressional investigators.
Team Obama has always known how to make the most of critics in order to make the least of criticism.
During the 2008 campaign, it was “Stop the Smears,” an Obama effort to single out those who made claims about the candidate’s nativity, faith or personal conduct, rounding up the most slanderous and paranoiac claims, publicizing and then refuting them.
Then when more credible individuals would get near the subject, the campaign could strike back. Recall Hillary Clinton back in March 2008 on CBS strenuously defending then-Sen. Barack Obama against claims that he was a Muslim but then leaving the door open just a bit by saying, “As far as I know.”
Obamaland went on the attack over those five words, and Clinton paid dearly.
And so it went in office. The best example was how much attention was paid to the small number of people focused on the idea that President Obama was born someplace other than Hawaii. They even had coffee mugs made with the president’s birth certificate.
For weeks, as John Boehner or Mitch McConnell went out to talk about tax policy or spending, they would have to face questions about the president’s birth certificate. Before the GOPers could talk about their problems with Keynesian economics, righteous reporters would make Republicans first discuss Kenya.
There was also the effort to elevate Rush Limbaugh as the de facto spokesman for the Republican Party, with the White House press secretary demanding that reporters inquire of Republican office holders whether they agreed with the conservative radio host who had said he hoped Obama would fail because the new president’s agenda was so destructive. The reporters did just that and much squirming was the result.
Or how about the White House encouraging supporters to collect claims made online about what would become Obama’s 2010 health law? As the implementation of the law has shown, there was much reasonable cause for concern with the legislation. But that’s not what the White House was hunting for. Team Obama wanted the grainiest sediment from the bottom of the can of mixed nuts.
Obama favors a similar technique in policy speeches, having built enough straw men over the years for every pumpkin patch in history.
This approach has helped the president keep his personal approval ratings above those of his individual policies and allowed he and his political team to depict critics, even legitimate ones, as racist, xenophobic, kooky and stupid. The president’s credibility and reasonableness have been enhanced and his detractors have been delegitimized – enough so that Obama won what once looked like an improbable second term.
So what happens when that stops working? We’re about to find out.
Obama used the same playbook when defending himself against claims of ineptitude and cover-up concerning a September raid by Islamist militants on a U.S. diplomatic outpost. What might have been a disaster for the president was turned around in a neat bit of political jujitsu with the help of Candy Crowley and a tentative challenger.
The line held for a long time, with the administration able to dismiss critics on the subject as obsessed conspiracy theorists or politically motivated phonies. But the evidence of hiding the facts from the public eventually became so great that Team Obama has had to begin a long, painful backward march.
When an official is found to have scrubbed talking points about the attack expressly to deny Republicans the opportunity to criticize the administration, it becomes clear that Obama was wrong when he said his administration was being forthcoming. It also opens the door to the next round of questioning about whether Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were willfully misinformed or willfully spreading misinformation. Neither is good.
With reporters plenty embarrassed by having been badly burned by Team Obama on the Benghazi attacks, a new scandal comes into view: the deliberate targeting of conservative groups by the IRS.
The agency tried to get out ahead of the scandal by going public just before congressional investigators released their findings. The timing, though, is even worse for the White House.
A government agency going after groups that oppose the president’s agenda and, most disconcertingly, support constitutional principles, would never be a good thing for an administration. But having the admission come at the exact moment the administration’s credibility is badly damaged for misleading the public on another subject is dire.
Just a few months ago, claims of a Benghazi cover up and the government hassling and intimidating the president’s critics were dismissed as kooky. Now both have been revealed to be true, leaving the president’s team unable to use the old jujitsu and retreat to the old-school techniques of compartmentalization (“isolated incident in a single agency”) and insulation (“the president did not order…”).
The best recipes for Lame Duck Soup call for a healthy scoop of scandal. Obama just got himself a double helping.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News, and his POWER PLAY column appears Monday-Friday on FoxNews.com. Catch Chris Live online daily at 11:30amET at http:live.foxnews.com.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as digital politics editor based in Washington, D.C. Additionally, he authors the daily "Fox News First" political news note and hosts "Power Play," a feature video series, on FoxNews.com. Stirewalt makes frequent appearances on the network, including "The Kelly File," "Special Report with Bret Baier," and "Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace." He also provides expert political analysis for Fox News coverage of state, congressional and presidential elections.