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HANSON: The end of ‘hope and change’

Obama promised a new age but it feels a lot like 1973

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In then-Sen. Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, he ran to the left of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a moral reformer. Mr. Obama promised to transcend the old politics and bring a new era of hope-and-change transparency to Washington. Five years later, those vows are in shambles.

True, the killing of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, has become a mess of partisan bickering, but the disturbing facts now transcend politics. The Obama administration — the president himself, Mrs. Clinton as secretary of state, U.N. Ambassador Susan E. Rice, White House press secretary Jay Carney — all at various times blamed an obscure video maker for the "spontaneous violence" that killed Americans last September.

The problem is not just that such scapegoating was untrue, but that our officials knew it was untrue when they said it — given both prior CIA talking-point briefings and phone calls from those on the ground during the attacks.

One theme ties all the bizarre aspects of the Benghazi scandal together — the doctored talking points, the inexplicable failure to beef up diplomatic security before the attacks and to send in help during the fighting, the jailing of a petty con artist on the false charge that his amateur video had led to attacks on our consulate, and the shabby treatment of nonpartisan State Department whistleblowers.

There was an overarching pre-election desire last year to downplay any notion that al Qaeda remained a serious danger after the much-ballyhooed killing of Osama bin Laden. Likewise, Libya was not supposed to be a radical Islamic mess after the successful "lead from behind" ouster of Moammar Gadhafi. Facts then had to change to fit a campaign narrative.

As the congressional hearings on Benghazi were taking place last week, we also learned that the Internal Revenue Service, administered by the Department of the Treasury, has been going after conservative groups in a politicized manner that we have not seen since Richard Nixon's White House. There was no evidence that any of these conservative associations had taken thousands of dollars in improper tax deductions — in the manner of former Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, the onetime overseer of the IRS.

Instead, groups with suspiciously American names like "Patriot" or "Tea Party" prompted IRS partisans to scrutinize their tax information in a way that they would not have for the tax-exempt MoveOn.org or the Obama-affiliated Organizing for Action. On top of that, the Justice Department just announced that it had secretly seized the records of calls from at least 20 work and private phone lines belonging to editors and reporters at The Associated Press in efforts to stop suspected leaks.

At about the same time as the Benghazi and IRS disclosures, it was widely learned that there was a strange relationship between the Obama White House and the very center of the American media — odd in a way that might explain the unusually favorable media coverage accorded this administration.

Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security adviser for strategic communications in the Obama administration, is linked to the doctoring of the Benghazi talking points. He also happens to be the brother of CBS News President David Rhodes. CBS recently pressured one of its top reporters, Sharyl Attkisson, for "wading dangerously close to advocacy," as one report worded it, in her critical reporting of Benghazi.

Unfortunately, such relationships are not rare with this administration. The head of ABC News, Ben Sherwood, has a sister who works for the Obama White House as a special assistant, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.

There is more. The CNN deputy bureau chief, Virginia Moseley, is married to Mrs. Clinton's former aide at the State Department, Tom Nides, who is also a former Fannie Mae executive. Mr. Carney, Obama's press secretary, is the husband of Claire Shipman, the senior national correspondent for ABC's "Good Morning America."

Apparently, in the logic of the Obama White House and the Washington media, there is nothing improper about wives dispassionately reporting to the nation on what their husbands are doing, or brothers adjudicating the news coverage of their own siblings.

Last month, the congressional architect of "Obamacare," Sen. Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, announced his plans to retire — in part because he feared his legislative child would become "a train wreck." Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who shepherded the bill toward passage, has echoed that worry.

Democrats are panicking because before the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is even fully implemented in the midterm election year 2014, it appears neither affordable nor protective of patients. That reality was long ago foreseeable — given that Obamacare passed on a strictly partisan vote, with a number of questionable legislative payoffs to skeptical fence-sitting Democrats, and even after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who helped ram the bill through the House, admitted that, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it."

What is the common denominator in all these second-term administration embarrassments? "Hope and change" is fast becoming the 1973 Nixon White House.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.

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