by Victor Davis Hanson
Barack Obama’s eight-year tenure was detrimental to the United States, but like most of his nonbelievers, I harbor no animosity for his person.
Few critics that I know advocated that Obama be impeached, much less removed from office, before his reelection bid – even amid his worst scandals and dangerous policies. But we are now in a new age, whose protocols might have made it impossible for the Obama Administration to have finished two terms.
Remember, his administration ran some 2,000 guns to Mexican cartels in some hare-brained scheme to monitor violence spilling into the United States. Under the new customs, he should have been impeached for instructing Attorney General Eric Holder to refuse to testify to Congress about Fast and Furious, or at least for not handing over subpoenaed documents. Imagine a Trump gun-walking scheme in Mexico.
It was bad enough that Holder was the first attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress, well aside from the embarrassment of his unhinged outbursts about “my people” (hint: his “my” did not mean Americans of all races and creeds). We all remember Holder’s lunatic dismissals of his own country as “a nation of cowards.” (Imagine Bill Barr referring to “my people” or calling Americans cowards)
Fine: politicians and bureaucrats misspeak. It is no surprise that radical progressives like Holder are both partisans and tribalists or that they don’t always have positive thoughts about America, past or present. But Obama won the election. So voters had ample warning from his past that he would likely put as many leftists as he wished into government. He had the legal right and political rationale to do so, without his opponents inventing crimes to remove them.
At least he did before the Trump hysteria.
I once served briefly on the nonpartisan presidentially appointed American Battlefield Monuments Commission that oversees the cemeteries and graves of Americans who died and were buried overseas. The fellow commissioners, dedicated professionals with far longer tenures on the commission than my own, were never political but shared a common commitment to protect and enhance the integrity of one of America’s most hallowed institutions. Yet all of us were summarily fired, shortly after Obama was elected in 2008, and told to surrender immediately our official passports and vacate the commission. As a result, the board went inert until belated new Obama appointments were made.
Again, fine, I thought at the time. Such is the way of all politics when another party takes the White House. I most certainly did not think Obama was creating a “climate of fear” or was “paranoid” in weeding out, even from nonpartisan, unpaid honorific posts, any non-supporters.
Nor did I think it was so odd when Obama went much further, and fired dozens of U.S. attorney holdovers from the Bush Administration. “Elections matter,” I remember Eric Holder saying of the mass firings at the time. He was right; they do. Clinton fired far more prosecutors than did Trump – as was his perfect right as well. So, who was to say that Obama was “paranoid” in “eliminating” potential critics, whether attorneys, government appointees, or ambassadors?
Who knows? If I were president, I might well have fired myself from even such a nonpartisan commission. Who knows? Had Obama left in office a Bush holdover federal attorney, the partisan might have become a Viva la résistance “Resister”, or invoked the Logan Act to hound one of the president’s own liberal appointees, or impeded his administration, or refused to carry out a presidential executive order, or helped to surveil Obama appointees, or even leaked confidential presidential conversations to the media, or called up the New York Times and Washington Post to give a rendition of an Obama phone call to the president of Mexico, or might have written an anonymous op-ed for the New York Times?
For that matter, I certainly did not join any “Resistance” in 2009 – on the sick rationale that Obama might be a Nazi-like interloper who had occupied the United States as Hitler did France, and sent us true patriots into the Maquis to “resist.”
Obama was elected for four years. We critics lost the 2008 election, and would have to wait four years to send him home, or, as it turned out in 2012, eight years to find relief. That is the American way. Obama’s clever campaign made both McCain’s and Romney’s amateurish in comparison, and so there was a logic in his victory over two inept candidates, even if both would have made better presidents.
We don’t recall either the media or critics suggesting that Obama was crazy in his often repeated “elections matter” and “I won” hyper-partisanship, or that he should have been removed under the 25th Amendment for silly apologies tours or riffs on the Crusades or Americans not being exceptional or his adolescent furtive duck-outs to have a smoke.
No mainstream pundit claimed Obama was a pathological liar for making up most of his “autobiography” or flat-out lying about Obamacare. When Reggie Love claimed he and a bored Obama played spades during the Bin Laden raid, few paid much attention. Nor did Obama do anything impeachable for stupidly and frequently weighing in during ongoing arrests and criminal proceedings – such as those of the Skip Gates Cambridge psychodrama or the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin shootings.
The Bowe Bergdahl disastrous swap was illegal, dangerous, and stupid, but not therein grounds for impeachment. Nor was impeachable the even worse Iran Deal that deliberately created an echo chamber among obsequious media to hide key elements of the “treaty” – hostage payoffs and nocturnal shipments of Danegeld. After all, presidents sometimes do stupid stuff. If we impeached every president for chicanery, we would have had no Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus and rounded up Copperhead opponents, or FDR who put U.S. citizens of Japanese descent into detention camps.
All presidents can get rough in their language. I noted and criticized Obama’s occasional potty mouth (e.g. “teabaggers”) and his puerile braggadocio about taking guns to knife fights, getting in their faces, and punishing enemies. All that was silly and nauseous, but certainly not proof that Obama should have been impeached or become the object of a FBI, CIA, or special counsel investigation.
Scandal Upon Scandal
I don’t know quite what “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” mean in the context of impeachment. But if they now exist as legitimate impeachable offenses, then we should have called for Obama’s impeachment when he refused congressional subpoenas in the Fast and Furious mess, subverted the treaty-making prerogative of the U.S. Senate with the Iran deal, and simply nullified federal immigration law with executive-order amnesties and laxities in a manner that on over 20 prior occasions he had warned supporters that to do so would have been illegal and monarchical.
When Lois Lerner invoked the Fifth Amendment and the subsequent testimonies of others established that the Obama IRS deliberately sabotaged conservative nonprofits to emasculate their criticism during the 2012 election, I thought the gambit was outrageous, even criminal. But I assumed that we still should let the voters in a few months, not a special prosecutor, decide to what degree Obama himself was directly responsible for such skullduggery.
Ditto our former president’s outrageous quid pro quo deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when he was caught in a web of pre-election deceit and finagling, this time on a hot mic in Seoul. Even from inadvertent snippets, it was clear Obama was outlining how he would consider being flexible on missile defense in Europe (and later he was so elastic that he canceled the needed project) if “Vladimir” would just give him some space before his reelection bid. And Vladimir did just that by putting off his invasions of Crimea and Ukraine until after Obama was safely reelected.
What is little noticed about Obama quid pro quo is that he and Putin actually went through with it – and to the clear detriment of Eastern Europe, Crimea, Ukraine, and U.S. security. Remember, the hot mic was an inadvertent public reminder, an encapsulation of what had likely been spoken earlier in private and at length.
We did not need a special counsel to investigate the disastrous reset policy and years of Russian appeasement that had reversed George W. Bush’s sanctions after Putin’s 2008 invasion of Ossetia. I thought it outrageous, but not proof of impeachable “collusion,” that Obama refused to sell the hard-pressed Ukrainians Javelin anti-tank missiles, in fears of agitating “Vladimir.” We still rue that John Kerry foolishly invited Putin into the Middle East after a 40-year Russian hiatus. All that Obama could offer to Putin for years of election interference was a lame “cut it out.” But then again, he just knew Hillary was going to win and did not wish to give the sure loser Trump any grounds for whining about the election results.
After the Benghazi hearings – another pre-reelection scandal – it was obvious that the Obama administration had been caught flat-out lying. It had systematically relaxed security in Libya after its disastrous regime-change bombing of Gaddafi (remember Hillary Clinton’s “We came, we saw . . . he died”? [Cackle! cackle!]), and then lied by denying such laxity had led to American deaths.
Then it prevaricated yet again to cover up that lie by claiming it was impossible to send aid to our fighters trapped and in extremis.
Then it lied still once more about the lies about the lies by claiming that a single obscure video maker had caused the mayhem. Therefore, Obama summarily had a pathetic resident alien fall guy Nakoula Basseley Nakoula jailed on a trumped-up charge of a minor parole violation.
Speaking of civil liberties, was it an impeachable offense to monitor the communications of journalists like the Associated Press reporters and Fox News’s James Rosen? Why did Obama’s CIA Director John Brennan lie twice under oath to Congress and why did James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, also perjure himself? Weren’t those greater offenses than the campaign contribution violation of Dinesh D’Souza’s that sent him to jail? Why did the Obama Administration tap the communications of foreign leaders from Benjamin Netanyahu to Angela Merkel? And why did it collude, using U.S. taxpayer dollars no less, with the opposition in the Israeli election of 2015 in hopes of defeating Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? Are not, we are told, governments not to interfere in the free elections of other countries?
Who set or tolerated such a corrupt culture?
Still, excesses happen. I did not argue that Obama should be impeached for such flagrant sabotages of the rule of law – neither when James Comey interfered in the 2016 election with his schizophrenic press conferences and confused and contradictory public statements, nor when Attorney General Loretta Lynch met secretly with Bill Clinton on a tarmac at the Phoenix airport and hid such a meeting.
I don’t remember anyone calling for mass firings, but then again Obama kept quiet how his FBI and Justice Department were warping the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance courts to spy on Carter Page in hopes of finding dirt on Donald Trump before the election. Comey, Brennan, and Clapper were all briefing Obama on their illegal activity – a fact that might explain why they are now so sure they will never be held to account.
Perhaps without such Obama-appointed scoundrels, there would have followed no “Crossfire Hurricane” hit job that seeded a Clinton-bought phony dossier on Trump, her campaign rival, throughout the highest levels of the Obama Administration and the media, and thus ensured it bore fruit before the 2016 election.
Insulting Our Collective Intelligence
The media, the current progressive party, and the unhinged punditocracy have redefined all of the above behavior. According to their own standards, we were all wrong to simply snooze when Obama overreached.
Under our just established current rules of presidential audit, Obama obstructed Congress by ignoring subpoenas and invoking executive privilege. He abused his power by making up immigration law and undermining the enforcement of existing statutes. Presidents are supposed to faithfully execute our laws, not undermine them or make them up. Obama allowed sanctuary cities to openly negate federal law and went after the state of Arizona when it dared to help to enforce federal law.
Obama weaponized federal agencies like the IRS, and used his presidential leverage to go after the Trump campaign and transition, by using Hillary Clinton’s hired foreign national, Christopher Steele, to dump false information before an election. The Obama scandal-ridden Veterans Administration was a veritable wreck. People died in Benghazi, at VA hospitals, in Fast and Furious, and because of the Iran Deal and the Bergdahl swap.
Obama cut quid pro quo deals with foreign leaders to assist his own reelection at the expense of the nation’s security. He paid one of the highest fines leveled in the history of federal financing of campaigns, for flagrant violations in 2008 – a fact that was mysteriously not released to the public and voters by federal officials until four years later and only after Obama was safely reelected in 2012.
Under Obama’s supervision, foreign money and foreign actors improperly played roles in the 2008, 2012, and 2016 elections. Meanwhile, Eric Holder ignored clear evidence of election interference at the polls by dropping charges against New Black Panther Party activists intimidating voters.
In terms of the current pettiness in the context of the various complaints against Trump, we forget that Obama likewise never released his medical records (other than a boilerplate one-page “summary” from his doctor), played an excessive amount of golf, lied repeatedly with assurance that Americans would neither lose their doctors nor health plans under Obamacare, and in general presaged what is now considered alleged proof of Trump’s unfitness to be president.
Neither Adam Schiff nor Nancy Pelosi offered a word of rebuke about Russia’s interest in Uranium One, Bill Clinton’s speaking in Moscow, huge donations to the Clinton Foundation from Russian-connected oligarchs, the cancellation of anti-Russian missile defense or the denial of Javelins to Ukraine – much less that a bought foreign national worked for Hillary Clinton in league with Russian actors to smear her opponent before the election – a fact known again to President Obama whose intelligence agencies worked hand-in-glove with the Steele dossier.
OK and fine. But do not insult our collective intelligence by suggesting that Donald J. Trump abused the Constitution and the office of president in a way that would have been unthinkable to Barack Obama.
Obama was not impeached not because he did not do things that are now defined as impeachable, but because his opposition in the House did not do what Democrats later most willingly did: attempt a coup to remove a president without cause.
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Victor Davis Hanson is an American military historian, columnist, former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare.