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PRUDEN: Obama finds his legacy

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Barack Obama can relax and get to work on his hook shot and his putting. The presidential legacy he has fretted over is now clear, well established, safe and secure. The presidential historians can fire up their laptops and let the processing of words begin.

It's too early to conclude, as some Republicans have, that the dam has broken, that the sleeping mainstream media has begun to come out of its sleeping-sickness stupor, and that even Democrats are about to leap out of the way. Not yet. But the dam has clearly sprung a leak.

Benghazi is no longer "the b-word," to be relegated to furtive whispers behind the potted plant, spoken like the f-bomb and the n-word, the ugly burps in the language of the uncivilized and the indecent. "For a long time," concedes Alex Koppelman in the New Yorker, "it seemed like the idea of a cover-up was just a Republican obsession. But now there is something to it."

And it's not just Benghazi. The scandal at the Internal Revenue System frightens everyone, given that an IRS audit and a heart attack are the twin terrors of the wee hours of the night. "Previous presidents," writes Joe Klein in Time magazine, "including great ones like Roosevelt, have used the IRS against their enemies. But I don't think Obama ever wanted to be on the same page as Richard Nixon. In this specific case, he now is."

Maureen Dowd, the dowager queen of spleen at The New York Times (where Mo's toxic rants are applied to Republicans and other conservatives in the absence of waterboards), says the nation's capital is "in the throes of déjà vu and preview as it plunges back into Clinton Rules, defined ... as damage control that goes like this: 'It's not true, it's not true, it's not true, it's old news.' The conservatives appearing on Benghazi-obsessed Fox News are a damage patrol with an approach that goes like this: 'Lies, paranoia, subpoena, impeach, Watergate, Iran-contra.' ... [But] now that the IRS has confessed to targeting Tea Party groups, maybe some of the paranoia is justified."

This late evidence that the rhinestone glitteries of the media do, after all, inhabit the same planet as the rest of us is reassuring, even if the glitteries are nevertheless still anxious to protect President Obama from his emerging legacy. "It's terrible," Carl Bernstein, who with Bob Woodward broke the Watergate scandal a generation ago, says of the IRS targeting conservatives for audits: "Outrageous. Heads ought to roll. Simple as that. From what we know so far, some high-up heads."

But just not too high-up. "We know a lot about President Obama, and I think the idea that he would want the IRS used for retribution — we have no evidence of any such thing."

Well, not yet. And maybe not ever. But Carl's Watergate scoop from that earlier century was dismissed for weeks as "a third-rate burglary," so if we know anything about Washington cover-ups we know that it takes time to unravel them. A new poll, by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, finds that Republicans are angrier about Benghazi than about the discovery that the IRS has been keeping a little list of Mr. Obama's enemies.

This is welcome news at the White House, which is expected to play the scandals against each other. In fact, there's fanciful speculation that the White House leaked the IRS disclosure specifically to distract attention from Benghazi. The IRS scandal might be successfully laid to benign incompetence. The indifference to saving American lives at Benghazi was criminal.

Benghazi is still regarded as a Washington scandal in flyover country, not yet news for the front page. For most Americans "Benghazi" is just another word from the weird world of the Middle East and North Africa, just easier than most to pronounce. It's a story with violent death but no sex. On the other hand, everybody's familiar with the IRS. Barack Obama has joked about using IRS audits to silence enemies, as in the commencement speech at Arizona State in 2009. The reference seemed innocent enough at the time, but he probably would find a better joke now.

Once the leak in a dam becomes a torrent, and then the dam breaks, there's nothing even a president can do. He becomes an unwilling participant. Every time he is forced to comment, as he was yesterday in a "press availability" with British Prime Minister David Cameron, he can only insist that "there's no there." But now everybody knows there is. He can run, but he can't hide. It's his legacy, and he's stuck with it.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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About the Author
Wesley Pruden

Wesley Pruden

Editor Emeritus — American journalist legend and Vietnam War author James Wesley Pruden, Jr. is Editor Emeritus of The Washington Times. Pruden’s first job in the newspaper business dates back to 1951 as a copyboy at the now defunct Arkansas Gazette where he later became a sportswriter and an assistant state editor. In 1982, he joined The Washington Times, four ...

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