When asked in February what his proudest accomplishment was as a leading figure in the Obama administration, former White House advisor David Axelrod replied by touting the administration’s record on ethics. “I’m proud of the fact that basically you’ve had an administration that’s been in place for six years in which there hasn’t been a major scandal,” he said.
To this, conservatives laughed. There is a difference between being scandal-free and deftly navigating the media environment to ensure that no individual controversy shatters the foundations of the public’s trust in the president. While the administration’s political team has been able to achieve the latter, they most certainly cannot claim the former.
An administration that presided over a sloppy gun-walking program that resulted in the deaths of scores of Mexican citizens and at least one American border guard is not scandal-free. An administration that carelessly wasted American taxpayer dollars on a variety of untested green energy technologies that yielded no return on investment save lining the pockets of Obama political allies is not scandal-free. An administration that manages an IRS that has admitted to targeting the president’s political enemies, a DOJ that prosecutes reporters and monitors their communications, and a VA that systematically covers up lethally long wait times is not scandal-free.
This appearance of mismanagement if not malice is compounded by the fact that the Democratic Party is set to nominate a figure who Bill Safire aptly called a “congenital liar.” In the space of just a few months, a cascade of scandalous revelations about the Clinton Foundation’s unethical fundraising practices and Hillary Clinton’s private email account, which was likely designed to shield her from congressional scrutiny, have seriously tarnished her image. The recent discovery that the former secretary of state indulged in a little biographical embellishment a la Brian Williams may soon develop into a scandal in its own right. Contrary to the widely shared Democratic belief, many Americans believe that a demonstrable record of mendacity is a disgrace that calls an individual’s character into question.
For the party in the White House, the news cycle has not been kind. A slow drip of scandalous revelations involving Democratic mismanagement and duplicity continues to leak ominously.
“A peek inside the vice president’s 2014 tax returns shows Joe Biden is still collecting rent from the federal agency charged with his personal protection, an arrangement that taxpayer watchdogs have criticized,” Politico reported on Wednesday.
As Biden ponders a 2016 presidential bid, watchdog groups say they are still unhappy with what they’ve criticized as a sweetheart deal that began in 2011. In IRS filings made public last week, Biden reported earning $26,400 in rent last year for letting Secret Service agents use a one-bedroom “cottage” on his property in Wilmington, Del. Over the years he’s collected at least $100,100 from the arrangement, according to his tax forms and public disclosures.
Agents are housed in the rental during Biden’s frequent trips to the waterfront property that Biden and his wife, Jill, have owned for years.
As for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a scandal so damaging that it forced President Barack Obama to jettison a longtime Cabinet secretary, the iconic anti-Iraq War advocate Gen. Eric Shinseki, that controversy continues to develop in a manner the administration must find unfavorable. Washington Times journalist Dave Boyer reported yesterday that the directive leading to a systematic, agency-wide cover up of wait times did not spring up organically as a result of a rogue agent’s momentary ethical lapse. In fact, that scandal had its origins in Washington D.C.
Another veterans scandal hit the Obama administration Wednesday with the emergence of an internal Veterans Affairs memo that allowed bureaucrats to cook their books and assert they were answering diligently President Obama’s call to reduce the backlog of veterans’ benefits claims.
The memo was known inside the VA as “Fast Letter 13-10,” and a government watchdog said Wednesday this “flawed” guidance from VA headquarters in Washington deliberately resulted in making the agency appear it was delivering services and benefits to veterans faster than it really was.
The VA inspector general examined the impact of the memo, issued in May 2013, on the Philadelphia VA office — one of the largest in the nation, serving more than 825,000 veterans and their families in three states. Investigators found that VA managers, using “Fast Letter 13-10” as their justification, ordered workers to put the current date on benefits claims that were sometimes more than a year old, thereby “eliminating” part of the highly publicized backlog with the stroke of a pen or time stamp.
Taken individually, these scandals are survivable. Together, they paint an unattractive picture of an administration that succumbed to the temptation to use its power to shield it from criticism.
Beyond the strength of the economy and the skillful management of foreign affairs, the factor that most influences the electorate’s decision making when they determine whether a party deserves a third consecutive term in the White House is the appearance of corruption. Despite a cynical strain of popular opinion, Americans are an ethical and earnest people. At least, the majority aspire to these qualities. They don’t always get to see those desirable traits reflected in the occupant of the Oval Office, but the value the American public places on forthrightness is measurable. Perhaps it is a vestigial Puritan impulse that the American public to back a candidate that they identify with, who most exudes honesty and sincerity. Whatever the reason for this condition, it is a factor influencing their vote. In 2016, it is a factor that will be working against Democrats.