Tommy Vietor, the former spokesman for President Obama’s National Security Council — the entity on which the president depends to synthesize national security information and policy — went on Fox News to answer questions about Benghazi. Mind you, the entire episode — the failure to keep tabs on the influx of jihadis, the failure to protect Americans in Libya, the massive confusion and misinformation that persisted up through the president’s Sept. 25, 2012, speech at the United Nations — was as much the responsibility of the NSC as any other entity. When asked about the e-mail Ben Rhodes sent out, Vietor snarked, “Dude, that was like two years ago.” And that’s when it became crystal clear how things like Benghazi happened in this administration.
Here are seven lessons we should keep in mind, ably illustrated by Vietor (who subsequently insulted Fox News rather than apologize, on MSNBC, declaring, “I guess you’re only supposed to use the Queen’s English on Fox.”):
1. An error like Benghazi happens because multiple people have a hyper-partisan mindset that submerges everything to politics.
2. The staff reflects the boss. If the staff is rude, immature and callous, the boss almost invariably is.
3. The entire purpose of the video story and the delay in turning over documents was to get far enough past the events that someone like Vietor could say, “Old news.”
4. The Obama team doesn’t seem to associate the presidency with a particular level of decorum. Wear jeans. Put your feet up on the desk. Insult opponents. Use coarse language. (The president’s insightful analysis of the House budget was that it was a “stinkburger.”) When such arrogance pervades, mistakes — small and large — happen.
5. The attitude that hostile questioning is illegitimate breeds insularity and groupthink. (How dare they challenge my version of events!)
6. A president is not the prisoner of bad staff. He hired the staff for a reason. He doesn’t fire them (e.g. Jay Carney) for a reason. They are doing what he wants.
7. It is never just one guy. Vietor’s behavior is hardly unique among current and former Obama staffers. Carney routinely insults the press, “dissembles” (as Jake Tapper described his “It’s not about Benghazi” excuse).
There are certainly serious people who have served in this presidency. Former Defense secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta served honorably and continue to warn the public of the administration’s follies. But they are the exception to the rule. They were and are respected by both sides of the aisle, have had a long career in government service, speak and write like adults, do not engage is partisan swipes and understand that their responsibility was to the country, not to a political party or the reelection campaign of their boss. It is noteworthy that these sort of adults have vanished from the administration in the second term. There is plainly no place for them.