June 22nd 2013

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Articles from this issue:

EDITORIAL: Kevin Rudd's last hurrah

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Can Australia afford Abbott's paid parental leave scheme?

SOUTH AUSTRALIA: New prostitution bill does nothing to protect women

SOCIETY: Gay activism encouraged in Australia's armed services

WORLD WAR II: Remembering D-Day with Ike and Reagan

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Labor to lose seats over boat people policy

OPINION: Has trade liberalisation helped or harmed Australia?

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: China to build rival to Panama Canal

UNITED STATES: Why Obama's scandals are worse than Watergate

MIDDLE EAST: No winners in Syrian civil war

MARRIAGE: Pity the child of same-sex union

LIFE ISSUES: Doctors who recommend abortion

SCHOOLS: How students can rediscover truth, beauty and goodness

CINEMA: Gatsby makes The Great Gatsby

BOOK REVIEW How Marxist was Marx?

BOOK REVIEW The mystery behind Mallory's quest

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Why Obama's scandals are worse than Watergate

by Hal G.P. Colebatch

News Weekly, June 22, 2013

In his inauguration speech of 1981, US President Ronald Reagan stated: “We are a country that has a government — not the other way round.”

The gulf between these sentiments and the style of the Obama administration is a stark illustration of how the strongest and proudest of political cultures can go rotten in a few years.

The Obama administration has given up even attempting to hide its corruption and its perversion of the US executive power for political ends.

Even its poodle-in-chief, the New York Times, has at last come to find Obama’s misuse of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) indefensible.

There is no doubt that the US — and this flows on to affect its friends and allies as well — is suffering the worst and most openly criminal government in the history of the republic in modern times, and probably the worst ever. The vital factor of confidence in the institutions of government has been, in the US, drastically undermined at a time when it has seldom been more needed.

It is hard to know if Obama himself is merely a deeply incompetent amateur, unaware of the consequences of his actions, or a deliberate wrecker, though a certain strain of cunning suggests the latter.

At present no “smoking gun” links him directly to the scandals and abuse of government instrumentalities; but that is not necessary, just as no document links Hitler directly to the Holocaust. Everyone knows who is responsible. Without Obama and his henchmen’s encouragement, these things would never have happened.

On September 11, 2012, heavily-armed terrorists attacked the American diplomatic mission at Benghazi, in Libya, killing four people, including the US ambassador to the country, Christopher Stevens, and injuring 10 others. The day after, Obama promised, almost as a matter of course, that the killers would be brought to justice. It was an open and openly-accepted lie. No one believed him, and of course nothing has been done.

Dr Shakil Afridi, a prominent Pakistani surgeon and public health worker, who made possible the American execution of Osama bin Laden, is still a tortured prisoner in a Pakistani jail (see News Weekly, October 13, 2012). There is no evidence of a determined US effort to free him apart from feeble diplomatic protests, though the US certainly possesses the requisite “soft power” if it cares to deploy it.

These episodes might be simply matters of bad and weak government. However, the Obama administration’s blatant and admitted misuse of the taxation system to punish political opponents is something new and deadly dangerous in Western politics.

What was perhaps the greatest source of strength for the English-speaking peoples during the Cold War, and indeed in World War II before that, was a generally-accepted feeling that their governments — of which that of the United States was the most important — were, on the whole and despite the shortcomings of certain individuals, fair, honest and incorrupt. This enabled the West not only to prevail in its decades-long contest with the totalitarian Soviet empire, but to emerge from the Cold War victorious and still largely free.

The Obama administration appears to be severing the cords of national unity that have held the Western system of values together. The US government has acquired a distinctly Third-World look.

Warren L. Dean, Jr, an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, has compared the present IRS scandal — targeting Republican, Tea Party and other anti-Democrat and anti-Obama groups — to Watergate, the only recent US scandal of even remotely comparable magnitude.

He writes: “This is far worse than the burglary at the Watergate in Washington. This particular offence was directed at traditional, law-abiding Americans all over the country and involved chilling and widespread abuses of federal power.

“Another important difference is that the Watergate burglars were not government employees. No government agency was implicated in the initial break-in. This time around, the misconduct is taking place in what may be the most powerful — and feared — government agency in the country. To ordinary Americans, it looks like the IRS spent taxpayer money to conduct a potentially criminal enterprise directed at the Americans who pay their salary. It was not only wrong, it was a betrayal of the public’s trust in government. At this stage, the IRS scandal is far more serious than the initial Watergate break-in.

“It is also clumsier, if that’s possible. The head of the IRS office responsible for the misconduct tried to get ahead of the report of the inspector general with a planted question-and-answer at a bar association meeting. There, she apologised for what she described as activities that were ‘wrong’. She then insisted to Congress that she had done nothing ‘wrong’, and then pleaded the Fifth Amendment” [that is, refusing to answer on the grounds that it might tend to incriminate her].

“Her performance made Nixon’s plumbers look like surgeons” (Washington Times, June 7, 2013).

More might be said: Watergate reached the magnitude it did because it was part of a political brawl in which President Nixon, in the midst of a difficult war in Vietnam, showed excessive loyalty to his own Republican party-workers and, not unreasonably in the circumstances, confused political opposition with national treason.

To repeat Professor Dean’s point, no government employees were involved in Watergate. Nixon, a veteran of World War II, had some reason at the time for thinking “anything goes”; but, at bottom, Nixon’s motives, however clumsily he handled the situation, were to safeguard US interests, not to institutionalise the misuse of the US government to promote his own interests and those of his cronies against the opposition.

Democrat presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton, among others, were involved in playing politics at least as dirty as Nixon, but none of them sought to deploy the institutions of the US government against the people of America for their own ends. With the Obama administration’s abuse of the IRS, we are seeing nothing less than a coup d’état against the American republic.

In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, there is a famous passage in which the young lawyer, William Roper, says he would cut down every law to get to the Devil. Sir Thomas More then asks him: “And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned around on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?”

The situations are not exactly parallel, but the lesson is the same in both. Without the rule of law — which also means universal respect for the rule of law — no-one in the whole state, or indeed the life of the state itself, is safe.

Hal G.P. Colebatch, PhD, is a Perth author and lawyer.

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