As former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour used to say when we worked together at the Reagan White House, “If the president has a runny nose, the White House staff has double pneumonia.” It’s clear that officials at the IRS thought of themselves as political agents who should use their office in furtherance of the president’s political goals. Maybe they had direct instructions from the White House or the Obama reelection team, maybe not. But the White House’s silence as one of its minions pleads the Fifth speaks volumes about the atmosphere it has created and the signal it wants to send. The message from the president is clear: campaign-style politics comes first. The Obama administration sees itself in a no-holds-barred war with Republicans, where the righteousness of the Obama cause means that the rules don’t apply to Obama’s agents.
Team Obama was too ambitious in its play to use the World War II Memorial as a prop in the campaign to blame Republicans for the government shutdown. If you’ve ever been to the World War II Memorial, you know that it is an open space at street level. Under normal circumstances, government personnel have no role in admitting or denying access to the memorial. There are no gates, doors or defined entrance. There is nothing that inhibits anyone from walking through or simply standing on the granite sidewalk that is the memorial. In fact, I’ve always thought that the World War II Memorial looked like what should be a grand entrance to the World War II Memorial, but as it stands, the memorial itself is an open plaza.
Real effort had to be taken and precise instruction had to be given to round up barricades and have them installed in a clumsy, visible way that would block pedestrians from entering the memorial. It was an effort to supply a pathetic visual that would highlight the sad dysfunction of the government in Washington, and obviously blame Republicans. It will be worth knowing – and I hope Congress pursues it – the precise steps that had to be taken through the government’s organization chart to deploy resources to place barricades that would trap American veterans in a photo-op intended to serve the president’s political interest.
Partisan calculations have infected the Obama administration, where anything and anybody is fair game when it comes to discrediting the president’s opponents and critics.
The shutdown is a net minus for the Republican brand, but the stunt at the World War II Memorial was too cute by half, and it will cost the White House. It will be the gift that keeps on giving as social media hums and the pictures the Democrats hoped to use against Republicans backfire as they echo through the Internet.