Why D.C. is broken
June 18, 2013
During the heat of the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama said, "Washington is broken. My whole campaign has been premised from the start on the idea that we have to fundamentally change how Washington works."
I believe that what Obama really meant was he wanted to change Washington's ideology from the center-right of the Bush years to far left, which I guess to some would constitute a "fundamental change."
If the operative word in the president's statement is "fundamentally," then the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal opinion poll reveals much. According to that poll, by almost a 2-to-1 margin, Americans feel the nation is headed in the wrong direction. (32 percent believe the country is headed in the right direction, 59 percent say it's on the wrong track, 6 percent have mixed feelings and 3 percent are unsure.)
Currently, the administration is beset by scandals. Lawmakers from both parties are questioning the Justice Department's efforts to secretly obtain phone records from Associated Press journalists, a matter which reeks of hypocrisy that many on both sides call an "unprecedented intrusion."
It wasn't a rogue IRS office in Cincinnati that gave special scrutiny to conservative organizations, but rather that the orders came from Washington. At the same time, it's been revealed that the IRS is flouting its own rules by failing to account for the millions of taxpayer dollars spent on lavish seminars.
And in typical partisan fashion, the administration refuses to admit it misled the American people about the real cause of the Benghazi attacks and won't answer one simple question. Why did the White House and the State Department continue the false narrative (including the president's speech at the United Nations three weeks after the event) that a video was the cause of the attack?
Does anyone really believe the culture of Washington can change when the president of the United States refers to the tea party as "tea baggers," calling them a threat to democracy? And what message does it send when the president calls his political opponents "enemies" while telling Americans that voting is the best revenge?
These are not the words and actions of someone intent on positive change. Any clear thinking adult understands the culture of an organization emanates from the top. I don't believe the president authorized the IRS' untoward scrutiny of his political opponents or directed Eric Holder to spy on The Associated Press, but he didn't have to. If a child sees his/her parents participating in unprincipled behavior, then is it any surprise when the child mimics the example set by those parents?
The culture of Washington is established in the Oval Office. When the president has Air Force One fly him to Florida to play golf with Tiger Woods or when Michelle vacations in Spain, Africa and other exotic locations, why should the worker bees at the IRS be concerned about spending a few million extra taxpayer dollars?
Just five years before he was elected to the most powerful position on Earth, Barack Obama was a minor player in the Illinois state Senate who came from a solidly Democratic district in a solidly Democratic state. The reality is Obama never faced major obstacles on his way to the top.
Furthering that narrative, during his first two years in the White House, he had bulletproof majorities in both houses of Congress. It was only after losing the House in 2010 that for the first time in his political career Obama found himself confronted with a challenge all presidents face — creating a vision, inspiring the American people and bringing politicians of differing political stripes together.
Faced with people who disagreed with his ideology, he used the indecorous strategy of calling anyone who disagreed with him an obstructionist. But a disagreement in philosophy by a minority party bounded by faithfulness to their fundamental principles and interests isn't obstructionism. It's called the loyal opposition. It's also one of the principles this nation was founded upon.
The president railed against his predecessor for spending, but then doubled George Bush's debt. In 2008, he told us immigration reform would be his top priority, but in four years there was hardly a feint of effort. Even now, it's Congress, not the White House, that's leading on this issue.
In 2009, Obama said this about entitlements: "What we have done is kicked this can down the road. We are now at the end of the road and are not in a position to kick it any farther. We have to signal seriousness in this by making sure some of the hard decisions are made under my watch, not someone else's." But four years later, not a single solution has come from the Oval Office.
Obama is an orator and a politician whose intent from the beginning was changing the ideology of Washington, not its modus operandi. For those who have trouble accepting that, I suggest you look at the results of his first four and a half years in office.
Quote of the day: "Anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm" — Publilius Syrus.
Butch Mazzuca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.