The scandalous lack of Obama administration scandals


Paul Waldman NAILS IT:

A real scandal needs serious malfeasance and high administration involvement. None of Obama’s scandals have had both.

If you ask many Republicans, they’ll tell you that Barack Obama himself and the administration he leads are deeply, profoundly, fundamentally corrupt. It isn’t just that they have the wrong values or the wrong policy priorities, but rather that they are practically a band of criminals bent on destroying America and unconcerned about what violations of law and morality they commit as they cut a swath of misery and destruction across our nation.

For some on the right—the cynical politician, the carnival-barking radio host—these ideas are a tool to use in a partisan game. They understand that the picture is an absurd one, but they also know it’s useful in keeping the rabble roused. But for many others, from ordinary voters to Republican lawmakers, it’s something they sincerely believe. So five years into this presidency, where do we stand with the scandals that were supposed to lead to Barack Obama’s downfall? The truth—no doubt a painful one for Republicans—is that there’s almost no there there. Or more precisely, what we have are a number of disconnected screw-ups and errors in judgment, most of which are not even worthy of the name “scandal.” Given the last few decades of history, and given the size and scope of the federal government, that’s quite an achievement.

So let’s take a look back and see what happened to all these affairs that never turned out to be the scandals conservatives hoped they would be…

Just to be clear, when I use the word “scandalous” in this list, I don’t mean “bad.” When you say, for instance, that there has been little evidence of anything scandalous occurring in Benghazi, conservatives often reply, “Four people died!” Indeed they did, and that was terribly tragic, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a scandal. Two hundred and forty-one Americans died in the 1983 Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, but it wouldn’t be accurate to call that a “Reagan administration scandal,” because while there were some bad decisions made with awful results, there wasn’t any criminality or corruption or cover-up, the things we usually associate with scandals.

To make a truly meaningful administration scandal, you need two things. First, there has to be some kind of criminal or morally atrocious behavior somewhere, which we can put under the general heading of “malfeasance.” People doing their jobs poorly isn’t enough to make it a scandal. Second, you need the involvement of highly-placed administration officials. Only an affair with both features is a scandal. If a ranger at Denali National Park in Alaska is found to be running a moose-based prostitution ring, that’s only an administration scandal if people high up in the administration knew about it. On to our list:

Solyndra. Conclusion: Involvement of high administration officials, but no malfeasance.

Fast and Furious. Conclusion: Possible malfeasance, no high administration official involvement.

Benghazi. Conclusion: High administration official involvement, no malfeasance.

IRS. Conclusion: No malfeasance, no high administration involvement.

Aggressive leak investigations. Conclusion: Probably no malfeasance (they were technically within their legal rights), probable high administration involvement.

There are also little things that pop up for a week or two and then disappear, like the time the GSA spent all that money on silly conferences. But when you look over this list, what’s striking is that none of them comes within a hundred miles of the scandals that most recent two-term presidencies have eventually become embroiled in. And despite all conservatives’ efforts, none of them have brought Barack Obama down.

Republicans will say that these things haven’t been scandals because the media have refused to investigate them, which is just ridiculous. All of these stories got plenty of coverage at the time they emerged and in many cases for some time after, and major news organizations did their best to investigate them. The problem conservatives have isn’t that they weren’t covered, it’s that the coverage ran its course and then petered out, because nothing scandalous was revealed.



  1. Perhaps the republicans are just incompetent in their investigations. It is not like they haven’t tried to find something…anything. Or perhaps the Democrats are just too smart for them.

  2. Steverino

    The real scandal is Darrell Issa wasting time and money trying to find Obama’s fingerprints.

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