Tonawanda News

May 22, 2013

DUVALL: Obama lurching between lame crises

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — If this column comes off as particularly cranky, blame the temperature in our newsroom — hovering around 80 degrees all day because the air conditioner is broken — but I really am annoyed with the gnat-like attention span that passes for national news lately.

President Obama has had, by all accounts, a pretty rough couple of weeks. First it was renewed interest by House Republicans in the handling of the Benghazi attack that killed four Americans including the Libyan ambassador. 

It remains difficult for me to find fault in the upper echelon of the Obama administration. There were bureaucratic misgivings and the typical behind-the-scenes turf wars over who should accept blame. Lots of Republicans — the list rather humorously includes Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney — are saying the administration misled the public about the origins of a terrorist attack.

I suppose if there were two experts on the topic it would be Rummy and Darth Vader — and yet I remain unconvinced.

The narrative holds the president, in an election year, preferred to keep his tidy narrative that al Qaida was decimated and in keeping with the campaign theme, they blames it on a spur-of-the-moment protest that turned violent. 

That political motive doesn’t pass the sniff test. It’s been proven time and again that attacks on Americans have the temporary political effect of helping an incumbent who’s seen as more capable of handling such matters. Supposing Obama came out an hour after it happened, called it a terrorist attack and made some decisive-looking, commander-in-chiefy declarations it would probably have served as a boon to his campaign not a detriment. 

That does not, of course, mean it was handled properly and there are legitimate questions over whether we should have been more prepared for such an attack — we should have been because the warning signs were everywhere — and how we responded once it happened. 

For that, the CIA and State Department have questions to answer. 

Too bad Republicans in Congress and on Fox News are much more interested in political reprisal than improving the safety of Americans on diplomatic missions in dangerous parts of the world.

Then there is this whole IRS boondoggle. 

There’s been no shortage of pious hand-wringing over what was clearly an out-of-bounds effort by underlings at the IRS to target Republican groups that hate the IRS.

Of course all those pious hand-wringers are correct — this isn’t an issue of right-versus-left. We rely on civil servants to follow the rules and enforce them equally on all groups, regardless of their political persuasion.

It becomes a right-versus-left issue when House Speaker John Boehner declares he wants to know who’s going to jail before any of the facts are clear.

The answer? Probably someone you’ve never heard of, if anyone at all — much to the GOP’s chagrin. Republicans would love it if some smoking gun email was unearthed from a top Obama lieutenant instructing the earnest IRS civil servants to crack down on tea party groups. Of course, nothing of the sort has ever been so much as hinted at.

Obama fired the interim IRS chief. Whoopee. 

The two figures who appear most at the center of the scandal are a career civil servant who oversaw the political targeting and her boss, a Bush-era appointee who sat on the information for a year until an inspector general’s report was finalized.

Hardly the stuff of Watergate.

When a government scandal breaks and it’s determined the president himself had no knowledge it was happening, they’re judged not for not knowing but for how they react once they do.

By that measuring stick, Obama has failed. He appears the captain of a rudderless ship, allowing his agenda to be hijacked by a bunch of trumped up charges. He lost the gun control battle, a rather predictable outcome given the politics of the issue.

Immigration reform seems more like the Senate Judiciary Committee’s project than Obama’s largest second term policy goal. 

Bill markups don’t make for sexy copy, I know. But the news media is only interested in covering the scandal and not anything approaching what small fraction of governing is still happening in Washington.

And all the while the president makes trips to the Rose Garden and East Room every few days to tamp out the latest smoldering brush fires with stern assurances he’s doing everything he can. What he’s doing isn’t exactly clear, mind you — but he wants us to know he’s doing it.

And that’s just the problem: No one seems to have any clue what the heck he’s doing, much less why. And in the absence of any presidential leadership we’re left to ponder what Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney think about all of it.

God help us.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.

Eric DuVall is the managing editor of the Tonawanda News. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter, @EricRDuVall.