Politics & Policy

Venezuela on the Potomac

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
Somehow, having an Enemies List is all right if you’re Barack Obama and not Richard Nixon.

It has become an iffy idea to cross Barack Obama. After seven years, the president has created a Hugo Chávez–like deterrent landscape, intended to remind friends and enemies alike that he is perfectly willing to use the federal government’s vast power to go after those he finds politically inconvenient, while exempting those he understands to be sympathetic to his agendas.

In Freudian fashion, Obama has long joked about using the power of government in a personal way. As early as 2009, when he had been invited to give the Arizona State University commencement address but had not been granted an honorary degree, he warned of rogue IRS audits: “I learned never again to pick another team over the Sun Devils in my NCAA brackets. . . . President [Michael] Crowe and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS.” Jesting about politically driven IRS audits is always scary — scarier when life imitates art in the age of Lois Lerner.

Remember when Obama, on the Spanish-language Univision network shortly before the 2010 midterm elections, urged Latino groups to join him, in ancient tribal us/them fashion, in going after “enemy” Republicans. Instead of sitting out the election, he told them in community-organizing fashion, they should say: “We’re gonna punish our enemies, and we’re gonna reward our friends who stand with us on issues that are important to us.”

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That threat recalled his 2008 campaign braggadocio about urging his supporters to bring (of all things!) “a gun” (“If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun. Because from what I understand folks in Philly like a good brawl”), and “to get in their face” (“I need you to go out and talk to your friends and talk to your neighbors. I want you to talk to them whether they are independent or whether they are Republican. I want you to argue with them and get in their face”).

Obama had apparently envisioned the campaign against John McCain as some sort of brawl in the waning days of the Roman Republic. Obama also jested about drones incinerating their targets when he warned the pop-rock group the Jonas Brothers to steer clear of his two daughters: “Sasha and Malia are huge fans, but boys, don’t get any ideas. Two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it [sic] coming.” Joking about pushing a button to incinerate a suspected terrorist and anyone in his general vicinity — let alone a group of pop singers — is a most unliberal thing to do.

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Obama also personalized, in Chávez fashion, his war on a subset of the 1 percent (mostly the upper-middle-class entrepreneur rather than the trust-fund grandee). Obama certainly has a visceral dislike not of the wealthy per se (whose lifestyles he seems to idolize and uses government perks to emulate), but of the “selfish” rich whom he deems obstructive of his own worldview. He feels that an Economic Commander-in-Chief should adjudicate who deserves what: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” Or: “I mean, I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” Or: “There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses — now is not that time. And that’s a message that I intend to send directly to them.”

To have a legitimate disagreement with the president is to be caricatured as either a coward or a bully.

To have a legitimate disagreement with the president is to be caricatured as either a coward or a bully. On illegal immigration, Obama complained that Republicans were “scared of widows and orphans coming into the United States.” Earlier, he had claimed they wanted to round up kids having ice cream: “But now, suddenly, if you don’t have your papers and you took your kid out to get ice cream, you’re going to be harassed.”

But aside from the psychodramatic tics and the jokes in poor taste, Obama has used government in a fashion contrary to the Constitution. IRS official Lois Lerner directed the federal tax agency to dole out tax-exempt status to groups on the basis of their ideology, and — particularly during a campaign season — on whether they were perceived Obama supporters. After staging a phony question-and-answer mea culpa, she pled the Fifth Amendment before a congressional committee of inquiry and retired with her full pension and apparent exemption from criminal prosecution.

RELATED: President Obama’s Top Ten Constitutional Violations of 2015

President Obama by executive order has nullified U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s effort to enforce federal immigration laws, apparently on the basis of perceived political advantage — and in a manner contrary to his own earlier campaign warnings about the illegality of just such executive-order overreach: “With respect to the notion that I can just suspend deportations through executive order, that’s just not the case, because there are laws on the books that Congress has passed. . . . We’ve got three branches of government. Congress passes the law. The executive branch’s job is to enforce and implement those laws. And then the judiciary has to interpret the laws. There are enough laws on the books by Congress that are very clear in terms of how we have to enforce our immigration system that for me to simply through executive order ignore those congressional mandates would not conform with my appropriate role as president.” 

In similar fashion, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the leadership of Lisa Jackson (who left her directorship abruptly and in controversy over assuming a fraudulent e-mail persona in her official communications, and who is currently on the Clinton Foundation Board), exceeded federal law in targeting particular energy companies for their deemed opposition to the president’s political agendas.

#share#We’ve apparently long forgotten how the administration and its ideological operatives, especially when in campaign mode, singled out Boeing in South Carolina, went after Gibson Guitar, seemed eager to talk about and mischaracterize the Romney tax returns, posted invective on Romney’s campaign donors, and habitually harangued the NRA almost immediately after each tragic mass shooting (“This is something we should politicize,” Obama remarked of the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon). The Obama administration has been a veritable continuation of Obama’s 2004 Senate race, when the sealed divorce records of his two chief rivals — first in the primary election and then in the general election — mysteriously were released, imploding both campaigns.

It can be a career-ending gamble for an individual to publicly oppose the president in a manner that questions his various narratives.

The common thread in the scandals or incompetence at the EPA, GSA, ICE, IRS, Justice Department, NASA, Secret Service, and VA has been Obama’s desire to advance his own particular political agendas in a fashion contrary to the supposed disinterested nature of these bureaucracies, if necessary putting in place political incompetents who would unquestioningly do his bidding. NASA, for example, has no business making its “foremost” aim outreach to Muslims. In the Obama era, most Americans now just assume that Black Panthers can intimidate voters at a polling place; and that illegal aliens with criminal records do not face deportation in sanctuary cities; and that failed green companies can extort federal dollars, while successful coal companies and utilities are hounded; and that Cabinet secretaries facing accusations of scandal, incompetence, or unethical behavior — Lisa Jackson, Eric Shinseki at the VA, Kathleen Sebelius at HHS, Hilda Solis at the Department of Labor — just seem to quietly resign and float away in a fashion most unlike General Petraeus.

Finally, it can be a career-ending gamble for an individual to publicly oppose the president in a manner that questions his various narratives. Obama’s domestic critics can become regarded as greater threats than our traditional foreign enemies — at least if the comparative venom of the president’s invective is any indication. The sudden indictment of Senator Robert Menendez (D., N.J.) on old charges came coincidentally right after the senator opposed the president’s Iran deal, one of the few Democrats to do so.

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Obama critic and documentary filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza was jailed for a minor campaign-contribution infraction of the sort that typically earns a small fine. Was wrongly circumventing campaign-donation regulations a more severe crime than diverting a federal Gulfstream jet to junket on the public dime at the Belmont Stakes with one’s daughters and their boyfriends, in Eric Holder fashion? Which offense is the greater conspiracy to commit fiscal fraud?

Again, the point is always two-sided deterrence — to remind Washington insiders to ask themselves whether they really wish to end up like D’Souza and Menendez, or like Lerner and Holder.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an obscure Internet video-maker, suddenly was jailed on a minor parole violation and was damned publicly — and falsely — as the catalyst for the 2012 Benghazi attacks, in which four Americans were killed. No one now believes — as President Obama, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for so long insisted to the world — that Nakoula’s amateurish video prompted spontaneous mobs to take to the streets of Benghazi (just by coincidence on September 11) and to torch the American consulate and zero in their ad hoc GPS-guided mortars on the consulate annex.

VIDEO: Montage: Obama’s Contributions to Civility in Washington

Nakoula’s jailing salvaged not just one but two of the president’s reelection-campaign talking points: (a) that al-Qaeda, thanks to Obama’s singular efforts, still “was on the run” and impotent, and (b) that the president was still devoted to the Nobel-laureate work of opposing right-wing bigots, like the easily caricatured Nakoula, who were attempting to subvert the president’s ecumenicalism and disrupt the lives of innocent Americans by inciting religious hatred.

#related#CIA Director General David Petraeus was forced to resign shortly after Obama’s successful reelection campaign in 2012, under mysterious circumstances, reportedly because he had improperly revealed classified information to a biographer, with whom he was having an affair. But that fact had been revealed to, but was not disclosed by, members of the Obama administration, months before the November 2012 election. The strange timing poses the question of why such misconduct was considered a non-firing offense before, but not after, the president’s reelection, when Petraeus, as CIA director, was likely to be slated to testify again, and at greater length, to a closed session of Congress on the Benghazi disaster.

The serial message goes out that it is unwise for a federal official or a prominent individual to oppose President Obama and his policies — while illegal or incompetent conduct, if undertaken in the president’s perceived interest, is considered to have been for a good cause and thus exempt from accountability.

In other words, there is no rule of law any more — an ossified relic in our pen-and-phone era of social justice.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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