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HANSON: President Obama’s ethical vacuum

Untainted administrators and department heads are few and far between

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Veteran Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki cannot get a handle on the recent scandalous treatment of veterans in Veterans Affairs hospitals, where more than 40 sick men were allowed to die without proper follow-up treatment. A cover-up is said to have followed. When the Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal broke under the George W. Bush administration, heads rolled. So far, Mr. Shinseki seems immune from similar accountability.

Almost nothing that former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius promised before, during or after the implementation of the ill-starred Obamacare came true. She was also cited by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel for violating the Hatch Act, as she improperly campaigned for Mr. Obama's re-election while serving as a Cabinet secretary.

Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner used the federal tax-collection agency to go after groups deemed too conservative. She invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid telling Congress the whole truth.

Susan Rice, former U.N. ambassador and now national security adviser, flat-out deceived the public on five television appearances about the Benghazi catastrophe. She insisted that the deaths of four Americans were the result of a spontaneous riot induced by a reactionary video maker — even though she had access to intelligence fingering al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists as the culprits who planned the attack on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Mrs. Rice recently blamed Obama foreign-policy failures on domestic political polarization. However, that is best described as the give and take of democracy and was once thought to be our foreign-policy strength.

Mrs. Rice also knows little history. In the midst of the 2007 surge, when Americans were fighting for their lives to stabilize Iraq, then-Sen. Hillary Clinton implied that the commanding general in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, was a veritable liar. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed and declared that the war was already lost. Then-presidential candidate Barack Obama prematurely wrote off the politically inconvenient surge as a failure. Was Mrs. Rice then shocked that "polarization" affected foreign policy?

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left office with American foreign policy in shambles. She has been unable to make the argument that a single initiative — resetting with Russia, leading from behind in Libya, drawing red lines on Syria, imposing deadlines on Iran, completing withdrawal from Iraq, pressuring the Israelis, reaching out to radical Islam and Latin American communist dictatorships — had met with success.

Mrs. Clinton infamously dismissed the lingering mysteries surrounding the Benghazi deaths with, "What difference, at this point, does it make?" She also refused, despite numerous entreaties, to place the now-infamous Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram on a State Department terrorist watch list.

Eric Holder Jr. is the first attorney general to have been held in contempt of Congress. Aside from his divisive language (he called America "a nation of cowards" and referred to blacks as "my people"), Mr. Holder always seems to find himself at the center of scandals. He permitted the federal monitoring of Associated Press journalists. He green-lighted the Fast and Furious gunrunning scam. He has failed to bring to account rogue IRS officials. Mr. Holder is the most morally compromised attorney general since Richard Nixon appointee John Mitchell.

Do we remember former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson? Her case was as unprofessional as it was surreal. Mrs. Jackson fabricated for herself an alternate identity as a midlevel EPA employee. In communications, she used a fake email address and name, and then unethically honored her own alter ego ("Richard Windsor") as a "scholar of ethical behavior." Who could have dreamed up such an unethical caper?

What has happened to NASA? We are currently trying to isolate Russian President Vladimir Putin for his territorial aggressions and yet beseeching the Russians to send our astronauts into space. Perhaps NASA Administrator Charles Bolden should not have boasted that one of NASA's "foremost" goals was "to reach out to the Muslim world" and "to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math and engineering." Americans might have preferred Mr. Bolden stuck with rockets.

Former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu left under a cloud of controversy involving crony capitalists getting millions of dollars in "green" loans that produced nothing but failed companies. Former Labor Secretary Hilda Solis slipped out of office, battling accusations of Hatch Act violations and freebie rides on private jets from insider union friends. Former top officials such as Timothy F. Geithner, Peter Orszag and Larry Summers have given new meaning to the revolving door between Wall Street and the White House.

The common denominator?

In all of these cases, politics trumped ethics. Because Mr. Obama professed that he was on the side of the proverbial people, administrators assumed that they had a blank check to do or say what they wished without much media audit. The mystery is not whether some administration officials were incompetent or unethical or both, but whether there are any left who are not.

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

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