Reap What You Sow

by Victor Davis Hanson

In the next few weeks, we will probably hear more stories about journalists whose correspondence was monitored, and more creepy details about the corruption of the IRS. The fault, however, is not Obama’s alone; he is what he is — a take-no-prisoners tough Chicago politician who came to power in Illinois by suing to remove opponents from the ballot and leaking the sealed divorce records of his primary and general-election senatorial opponents. Such things worked there, and they work on the national level as well.

Instead, the problem has been the press, which for a variety of reasons invested in Obama to the point that it gave up its integrity and for the last five years essentially surrendered its vital watchdog role in a free society. The road to where we are now was not just marked by the embarrassing exclamations from journalists about tingling legs, perfectly creased pants, the smartest president we have ever seen, and Obama as a “god,” or by Candy Crawley ruining her reputation by becoming a partisan instead of a moderator in a presidential debate.

In addition, the purpose of Obama-campaign websites such as AttackWatch and Truth Team was to go after anyone thought to be antithetical to the president’s agenda, in ad hominem fashion, thereby creating a sort of deterrence — donors would not wish to have their taxes audited or their personal lives scrutinized, and opinion journalists would not wish to be on lists and defamed, and thereby would pull their punches. 

It worked well enough; Obama was elected President twice, and now for some reason we are shocked that, without another election to worry about, and the collective madness of 2008 wearing off a bit, we suddenly learn that all along the agencies of government — especially the powers of Justice and Treasury — have been used in unconstitutional fashion to go after individual Americans for the crime of exercising their First Amendment rights.

Obama, in that regard, is a symptom of a far deeper ends-justifying-the-means pathology among far too many journalists who gave up their independence in exchange for a shared egalitarian vision. In the last few years, I think most columnists who wrote things critical of the administration or its congressional or state allies expected either to get a letter of inquiry from the IRS, or an angry call or public putdown from a liberal public official, or back-channel advice about the selection of topics for columns, or weird storms of hostile e-mails and postings that were almost identical in their pro forma boilerplate talking points, or all that and more. I know I did—and was not disappointed.

As an endnote, I wrote this about Obama’s strange creation, AttackWatch, back in September 2011:

Yet go onto the new (“Paid for by Obama for America”) AttackWatch.com website. It reads and looks like some sort of Stasi file (“file” is their vocabulary, not mine). It asks readers to inform them of criticism of Obama. The format is, I guess by intent, supposed to resemble a government intelligence dossier (“Attack files”), with its blaring black and red headers: “Attack” /”Attackers” (followed by names and pictures of the supposed bad guys)/”Attack Type” /(“public statements”) followed by check off boxes like “Have you seen or heard this attack?” “Yes/No”. It reminds me of living in 1973 dictatorial Greece, when we all kept silent about the Colonels upon entering the apartment building, lest the government-paid concierge write down something not nice in her black book.