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Question of the Day
President Obama's election was a hopeful moment for civil rights advocates who thought he would usher in a golden era of government openness and respect for civil liberties, but some of the president's most enthusiastic supporters have expressed the harshest condemnation this week as revelations of multiple controversies involving intrusive government overreach have exploded onto the national stage.
The unfolding scandals involving the Internal Revenue Service targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny and the Justice Department's seizure of phone records of more than 20 Associated Press reporters and editors in a national security leak probe have unified figures across the political spectrum in outrage amid calls for a far-flung investigation to protect individual freedom and personal privacy.
Former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat known for his solidly liberal voice and for trying to bring articles of impeachment against President George W. Bush, said Democrats didn't get what they thought they were voting for in Mr. Obama.
"We're getting a lesson in transparency from this administration," he said. "But it's not the one we thought we were going to receive — the only thing transparently clear is that it's not a transparent administration.
"We see their spin on issues from international to domestic — and there's a lot of symmetry from one to the other. There's a lack of disclosure, misdirection and a lack of confidence in the American people that they won't understand if they are given full disclosure, and yet that was the basis of the contract this president had with the people in 2008," he continued.
The week's relentless stream of negative news for the White House had Democrats like Mr. Kucinich and Rep. John Lewis, Georgia Democrat and civil rights icon who worked with Martin Luther King Jr., singing from the same songsheet with Republicans Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, the leader of the Tea Party Caucus in the House.
On Tuesday, after both the IRS and AP scandals had broken, Mr. Lewis called out the Obama administration and blasted the FBI for their phone monitoring of journalists in a sternly worded statement.
While cybercrime and terrorism pose real threats, he said, "I am deeply disturbed by what I have heard surrounding the broad capture of Associated Press journalist phone records by the Federal Bureau of Investigation."
Mr. Kucinich said he saw stark parallels between the recent spate of domestic controversies and the president's international troubles. On the Obama administration's record on the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed four Americans including the ambassador, Mr. Kucinich is equally harsh. He led the bipartisan effort to stop U.S. military intervention in Libya and filed suit to try to stop it from going forward without congressional approval.
"The administration opened the door for al Qaeda in Libya and opened the gates of hell in Libya," he said. "Arms were pouring in from Northern and Central Africa and spawning more and more problems for governments in the region. When it came out after the attack that there were deeper questions raised about the [Benghazi] mission itself that could have threatened the president's re-election, then better to stick with fixing the inconvenient facts."
Mrs. Bachmann said the IRS' action — which has resulted so far in the resignation of the acting commissioner of the agency and another senior official — reflects a greater undercurrent of overreach and intrusion being carried out by the federal government. And on the same day the House Republicans once again voted to repeal Obama's 2010 health care law in its entirety, Mrs. Bachmann cited the health care overhaul as a measure full of opportunities for partisan gamesmanship.
"Knowing it's the IRS who will be the enforcing mechanism for this new entitlement program of Obamacare, it is very important to ask — and now it is reasonable to ask — could there be potential implications of access to health care, denial of health care?" she asked.
Mr. Paul also said his celebrated 13-hour filibuster just two months ago over the possibility of an American being killed by a drone on American soil has gained new credence in the past week as voices across the political spectrum have accused the Obama administration of abusing its power and failing to live up to the president's campaign promise to rein in the executive branch and operate the "most transparent administration in U.S. history."
While civil libertarians bemoaned the developments of the week, at least one group found a silver lining. David Boaz, executive vice president at the Cato Institute, said Mr. Obama's tarnished record on transparency has instantly given the libertarian movement more political capital.
"So, thanks, IRS and Justice Department!" Mr. Boaz wrote in a Cato blog post, arguing for libertarians to seize the moment to take on issues such as health care mandates, Mr. Obama's recess appointments, campus speech regulations, government bailouts, overregulation and "illegal wars."
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About the Author
Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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