look forward as opposed to looking backwards" at the apparent crimes of the George W. Bush administration, reasonable observers knew that comment would come back to bite the president-elect some day.
That moment came yesterday when President Obama told reporters at a White House press conference that he was outraged over disclosures that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had singled out conservative groups for special scrutiny.
Obama went so far as to say that he would not tolerate a government agency that targets individuals and groups based on political affiliations. But those words ring hollow when you realize that Obama has tolerated exactly such behavior from the outset of his administration. The president's words are especially hollow here in Alabama, where we've held front-row seats to the political prosecution of former Democratic governor Don Siegelman during the Bush years--not to mention the politically charged Alabama bingo prosecution under the Obama Department of Justice (DOJ).
How serious are the IRS disclosures? A report from The Washington Post makes clear that they are ugly, indeed:
Internal Revenue Service officials in Washington and at least two other offices were involved with investigating conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, making clear that the effort reached well beyond the branch in Cincinnati that was initially blamed, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.
IRS officials at the agency’s Washington headquarters sent queries to conservative groups asking about their donors and other aspects of their operations, while officials in the El Monte and Laguna Niguel offices in California sent similar questionnaires to tea-party-affiliated groups, the documents show.
IRS employees in Cincinnati told conservatives seeking the status of “social welfare” groups that a task force in Washington was overseeing their applications, according to interviews with the activists.
Obama reacted with understandable indignation. Reports The Post:
In a news conference Monday, President Obama said he learned of the investigating in media reports on Friday and has “no patience with it.”
“If in fact IRS personnel engaged in the kind of practices that have been reported on, and were intentionally targeting conservative groups, then that’s outrageous,” Obama said. “And there’s no place for it. And they have to be held fully accountable.”
How can we square Obama's calls for accountability in the IRS scandal with his vow to ignore DOJ abuses? We can't. The president long ago punted his moral authority on abusive government actions--and there is no getting it back now.
Let's consider just a little of what we know about the Siegelman case--and it is only one of dozens of political prosecutions during the Bush years. We touched on the subject last week with a post about former HealthSouth CEO Richard Scrushy, who was released last summer after being imprisoned for almost six years in the Siegelman case. In an interview with HuffPost Live, Scrushy said government investigators made it clear that he could avoid prosecution by agreeing to testify falsely against Siegelman. Here is the quote from Scrushy:
The way our prosecution system works is through a "snitch process." I was asked to snitch on the governor, and they were going to let me out. But I would have had to lie and I said, "No, I’m not going to get up there and say a man did something he didn’t do." It’s a sad situation for our country.
Does the IRS scandal look bad? Yes. Does it compare with ongoing corruption in the U.S. Department of Justice, from rogue prosecutors to crooked federal judges? Not even close.
Since the IRS story broke last Friday, conservative voices have been squealing, calling for Congressional inquiries and the like. These are pretty much the same conservative voices who were silent when Bush adviser Karl Rove was anally raping the ideals that undergird our justice system.
No one, of course, should be surprised at such hypocrisy from conservatives. But we should expect far better from Barack Obama, especially on justice issues. So far, the president has failed to deliver at every turn.