Tea Party tax outrage: latest 'scandal' to beset Obama

The US President is under fire on three fronts – but it's really Hillary Clinton the Republicans want to sink

Column LAST UPDATED AT 10:01 ON Thu 16 May 2013
Charles Laurence

WHY IS Washington suddenly consumed with scandal fever, with the three new "-gates" out and running in a week? In a word: Hillary.

The Republicans, terrified by failure in last year's elections which made clear how profoundly they have alienated such vital voting blocs as the Hispanic population, are desperate to hobble Hillary Clinton before the next race.

Their best chance, it seems to them, is to tarnish her with the blame for the terror attack that killed four Americans including US ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi last September. As a local columnist put it, the idea is to show that Clinton has "American blood on her hands" because she failed to fulfill her duties as Secretary of State (by ensuring security at the Benghazi consulate on – of all days - the anniversary of 9/11), and thus make her unelectable.

Dick Cheney, the former Vice-President who was architect of President 'Dubya' Bush's misadventure in Iraq, described the Benghazi tragedy as "one of the worse incidents frankly that I can recall in my career."

Are we missing something? Not really. It was a security cock-up, and Clinton as head of the State Department has already accepted responsibility before a Senate hearing. The Republicans' refusal to let the issue go suggests that they cannot come up with anything better.

The problem for them as they start to worry over next year's mid-term elections and the presidential race in 2016 is that Clinton is riding a huge wave of public approval. She has higher ratings than anyone else in the Obama administration, including the President, even though she has been out of office for more than four months.

Her years and years of battling scandals with Bill Clinton seems to have left them both inoculated. That is why her enemies see it as vital to get a new scandal season started now, in the hope that something will stick. And if it doesn't stick to Hillary, than at least maybe something might stick to alternative Democrat candidates and mess-up Obama's legacy while they are at it.

"Last week's hearings on Benghazi had one simple goal," wrote David Brock in USA Today. "To pin the alleged scandal on Hillary Clinton. The playbook hasn't changed." If anyone should know that, it is Brock: he was the right-wing journalist who launched the Clinton scandal saga back in 1982 with tales of Jennifer Flowers and Clinton's "cheating heart".

"Partisan media bang the drums for months until the Republicans use their investigative powers to hold a show trial," he went on. "The mainstream media piles on, thinking they're late to the story and rehashing disjointed facts that have been known for months, packaged as exclusives."

That is the point at which Washington has arrived this week.

But Benghazi is looking increasingly feeble. Because Stevens's death occurred in the run-up to the presidential election, it is certainly true that the White House pushed its spin machine to the limit to play the story down. Obama needed to be Bin Laden's executioner, not the man who failed to protect the ambassador to Libya.

But so far no Republican has been able to prove lies or conspiracies. And as the Washington Post reports, Obama administration emails concerning the Benghazi incident – released yesterday under pressure from the Republicans – do not appear to support Republican allegations of political interference or a cover-up.

The surprise is that the other two new "-gates" are looking potentially more damaging – to Obama.

One is the news, revealed by the Department of Justice itself, that it spent a month monitoring en masse the telephone calls of Associated Press journalists.

Using the Bush-era mechanics of the Homeland Security state, they obtained a "secret subpoena" from the court. Their only excuse so far is that they were investigating "very serious security leaks" and were trying to identify the government official talking to the press.

This has been greeted with glee by the Republicans as an assault on the right to free speech, and the left is furious at so blatant a betrayal of civil rights by the Obama administration.

Worse still is the admission that a Cincinatti branch of the IRS, the federal tax authorities, has "targeted" for a closer look - if not an actual "audit" - those citizens who claimed tax breaks for making donations to Tea Party causes, and ordered its inspectors to highlight people who identified themselves as "patriots", a code word for the far-right gunslingers of racist militias and National Rifle Association fanatics.

This has outraged almost everyone. Americans are supposed to be allowed to hold and express any opinion they like without being set upon by the tax man. Both episodes belong in Putin's Russia, not America.

Obama had no choice but to act decisively – and yesterday fired the acting IRS commissioner, Steven Miller. "Americans are right to be angry about it. I am angry about it," said the President. "I will not tolerate this in any agency, especially in the IRS."

These scandals are sure to hurt Obama - and he deserves to be hurt by them.

The right is crowing that Obama is becoming 'Nixon', and impeachment can be only around the corner. That is nonsense – at least as far as we know so far. But Obama has failed from the start to keep his original campaign pledges to dismantle Bush's "terror state" – Guantanamo Bay, torture, secret wire taps, drones – and these two ugly episodes confirm fears of the consequences.

There is one big problem, however, for the Republican cause and its dirty politics: they are not about Clinton. And it is Clinton they are out to get. ·