U.S. President Barack Obama is trapped in a scandal atmosphere: lies about the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the IRS intimidating critics of Obama and spying on journalists. According to foreign affairs commentator Paul Brill, the person making a comparison between Obama and former President Richard Nixon is "ill-informed on history". I'll take that challenge.
Exactly forty years ago, Washington was under the spell of Watergate. The turmoil in which Obama finds himself is obviously not identical. Yet there is a similar erosion of Obama's credibility. The symbol of Hope and Change wants to be remembered as a Kennedy. Now the image of the infamous Nixon pops up.
Like Nixon, Obama is a true campaigner. It's all about election campaigns and everything is legitimate. Like Nixon, Obama is touchy, blames others and sees 'enemies' everywhere. For Obama: Republicans. For Nixon: the 'leftist press'. Each scandal shows a Nixon-facet of Obama.
Lies. During the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, on September 11th last year, Ambassador Stevens and his bodyguards were killed. The CIA reported immediately that it was a "terrorist attack". Two months before the presidential election Obama did not want to hear that word. Osama bin Laden was dead and that was the end of it. The White House chose a different explanation: the attack was an out of control demonstration against a YouTube video that ridiculed the Prophet Muhammad. Obama said this in his speech to General Assembly of the UN, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it to the families of the victims.
It was not true which turned out at a hearing in the Senate. Some employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs testified as 'whistleblowers': it was a terrorist act. Gregory Hicks, deputy head of the U.S. embassy in Libya, had reported this to Secretary of State Clinton personally. Obama and Clinton maintained the falsified version. Hicks, however, was demoted.
Intimidation. The biggest danger for Obama is the IRS scandal, in which the tax authority cracked down on conservative supporters and donors of Obama's rival candidate Mitt Romney. The IRS crippled conservative groups with procedural battles over their usual tax-exempt status, tracked down names of donors and passed them on to Obama-minded groups who used them to ridicule these 'rich'. In short: the tax authorities acted as political police. In April 2012, Obama spoke out himself in the campaign against 'rich figures with a dubious reputation' supporting Romney. For example, he mentioned businessman Frank Vandersloot from Idaho, who was promptly audited by the IRS. An Obama-minded 'researcher' sniffed through the divorce files of Vandersloot. Most of the actions of the tax authorities against Obama's opponents took place in Ohio, the key swing state.
The White House dismissed the accusations as the work of overzealous clerks. A hearing in Congress showed that the actions were part of a wider pattern, known by a broad group. The top of the IRS knew about it. Its director visited the White House 118 times in one year. Then Obama's spokesman, Jay Carney, was forced to admit that high policy staff of the president - including his chief of staff, Dennis McDonough - was aware.
Obama is confronted with the question the Republican Senator Howard Baker formulated in the Watergate hearing: What did the President know and when did he know it? Or as the former talk show host Dick Cavett said: When did the President know and when did he stop knowing it? There will be hearings, witnesses under oath and special investigators. To be continued.
Spying on journalists. The third scandal, spying on journalists, is symptomatic. These were mainly journalists from Fox News, a television channel Obama hates. Fox is to Obama what the New York Times was to Nixon: the 'arch enemy'. The Department of Justice, under orders of Minister Holder, tracked personal e-mails of Fox reporter James Rosen for no less than a month. Bob Woodward, the Washington Post journalist who revealed Watergate in 1972, characterized the actions of Obama's White House as 'Nixonian'.
Americans respect their president, but that quickly turns into distrust and disgust when they realize that he abused the state apparatus for personal political gain. An American president is not above the law. That applied to Nixon. Now it is applies to Obama.