There are so many scandals plaguing the administration of Barack Obama that any sentient historian would have to contemplate whether this nation’s status as the world’s model democratic nation has finally come to an end. The reason is that past scandals plaguing presidential administrations, with the notable exception of Watergate, essentially involved either money-taking by subordinate officeholders (Whiskey Ring of 1875 or Teapot Dome of 1921-22, for example) or personal misconduct, as in the case of the Monica Lewinsky affair under President Clinton.
Never before in the nation’s history has the machinery of federal government departments been used to cover up seemingly obvious misconduct to protect a president from impeachment proceedings. Never before has the mainstream press largely ignored the political machinations, never before has the party of the president in power been so united in defense of the chief executive. Never before has the attorney general of the United States, in the face of obvious crimes in the administration or his office, failed to take any significant action. Recall that the infamous Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer, under President Woodrow Wilson from 1919 to 1921, gained notoriety, much to the chagrin of liberals, for taking too much action against foreign radicals that the public viewed as antithetical to the nation’s democracy.
Never before has the opposition party — in this case, the Republicans — been so divided that a unified front in the upcoming midterm elections, to say nothing of the presidential election in 2016, has been so elusive, making it likely that the Democrats will continue the cover-up status quo. Worse, the leading Democratic candidate for the presidency, Hillary Clinton, may well be victorious in two years, ensuring that the Benghazi scandal under her watch resulting in the death of four Americans, as well as the rest of the Obama scandals, will be swept unresolved under the rug. Not wanting to criticize the first black man to hold the presidency, Mrs. Clinton, in short, will be given free rein to emulate the sordid policies of her predecessor. American democracy, as it was known until 2009, will be difficult to restore, especially in foreign affairs.
For never since 1980 has American policy abroad been in such shambles that nations ignore State Department and White House remonstrations, knowing that the administration will not follow up. Never since Sept. 11, 2001, has American security against terrorists been so weakened as a result of releasing captured terrorists to ply their trade, with the defiant boast, to “see us in New York.”
The dilemma of the nation, first noted by French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville in his penetrating analysis, “Democracy in America” (1835), is that representative government eventually can sink to the lowest common denominator when elections to all offices become synonymous with public appeal rather than the quality of the candidate. “I do not know if the people of the United States,” wrote de Tocqueville, “would vote for superior men if they ran for office, but there can be no doubt that such men do not run.”
Thomas V. DiBacco is professor emeritus at American University.