Only one month after a Washington Post poll found that 70% of Americans think the GOP is out of touch with “the concerns of most people in the United States today,” a golden opportunity is presented for them to rectify this. The scandals that have hit the Obama administration of late run directly against this perception. On the heels of the Benghazi scandal come two even more politically damaging revelations. In Benghazi, the administration was caught, at the very least, having formulated intentionally misleading talking points to the American people. The average American doesn’t appreciate that. On top of that, the seizure by the Department of Justice of two months’ worth of phone records belonging to reporters for the Associated Press make the average American wary of the trust s/he can place in the executive branch. But from the scandal trifecta, the story exposing the IRS targeting conservative groups for extra scrutiny is particularly damaging.
Here, the GOP has a once-in-a-lifetime scandal to exploit for its own benefit. It hardly seems possible for a scandal to be better serving of the party’s needs. As Republican Mike Kelly said while questioning outgoing IRS commissioner Steven Miller: “If you think it’s uncomfortable sitting over there, you ought to be a private individual when the IRS is across from you, questioning you.” Put simply, there is no governmental agency that the average American likes less than the IRS. But the Republicans, who seem to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity, seem intent on blowing this one as well.
Some of the Republican reaction to this, such as that of Sen. Marco Rubio on the Senate floor, singled out, as the reason for these scandals, the Obama administration and its distinct characteristic of being all about politics. But that argument is the wrong one to make. It is faulty in its very premise intellectually, and it serves no purpose politically.
Republicans need to realize, and argue, that the scandals aren’t unique to the Obama administration. It is an indictment of liberalism as a philosophy of governance. As Sen. Mike Lee of Utah wrote in a piece on RedState.com: “These scandals shine a light on the inherent flaw of the progressive ideology: the idea that government can and should be trusted with more and more power … recent Obama scandals do not so much impeach the president’s character; they indict his worldview.”
The most fundamental tenet of conservative ideology is that government becomes more dangerous the bigger it gets. It also happens to be the hardest case to argue, as the lure of a utopian society in which the government cares for all the citizens’ needs is strong. The current group of scandals, Lee writes, is making that case for us. And that, not the political nature of Obama’s administration, is the root cause.
Much has been made of the fact that Republican presidential candidates have only won the popular vote one time in an election in the last 20 years. This is true. But that statistic is used to insinuate that America is no longer a “center-right” country, rather one that leans more to the left. But there is another, not-quite-as-often-quoted statistic regarding presidential elections that directly contradicts this assumption. Before President Obama ever ran for president, there had been 15 presidential elections in the post-FDR era. Of these, Democrats only ever got more than 50% of the popular vote two times (including a 50.1% showing by Carter in 1976), while Republicans did seven times. The fact that the President’s two above-50% performances are more a testament to his ability to run a campaign than proof of any nationwide trend is pretty clear. In fact, it becomes even clearer when coupled with the fact that since the 1992 presidential election that started the infamous popular vote losing streak, Republicans have been in control of a majority of governorships 70% of the time.
But Republicans can breathe easy, because Obama isn’t able to run again. And so the future of the party, and the country, will come down to which argument can be made more compellingly. Will it be the progressive, big-government argument of President Obama? On May 5, in a commencement address at Ohio State University, the President crystallized the argument when he told graduates: “…you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all of our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices … We don’t think that government is the source of all our problems … As citizens we understand … it’s about what can be done by us, together.”
Or will it be the wisdom of Ronald Reagan, whose most famous statements were what Obama was trying to refute? In his 1981 inaugural address President Reagan said, “… government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem … Our government has no power except that granted it by the people. It is time to check and reverse the growth of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed.” And in 1961, Reagan warned that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. The only way they can inherit the freedom we have known is if we fight for it, protect it, defend it and then hand it to them with the well thought lessons of how they in their lifetime must do the same. And if you and I don’t do this, then you and I may well spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.”
In all likelihood, Obama bears no personal responsibility for the scandals happening under his watch. It’s his ideology, which Reagan warned about, that bears almost all the culpability. And if Republicans let this teachable moment go by without pressing the issue, that will be the real scandal.