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May 6, 2015

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The loss of Americans’ trust

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Leaving aside the seriousness of lawlessness, and the corruption of our civic culture by the professionally pious, this past week has been amusing. There was the spectacle of advocates of an ever-larger regulatory government expressing shock about such government’s large capacity for misbehavior. And, entertainingly, the answer to the question “Will Barack Obama’s scandals derail his second-term agenda?” was a question: What agenda?

The scandals are interlocking and overlapping in ways that drain his authority. Everything he advocates requires Americans to lavish on government something his administration, and big government generally, undermines: trust.

Liberalism’s agenda has been constant since long before liberals, having given their name a bad name, stopped calling themselves liberals and resumed calling themselves progressives, which they will call themselves until they finish giving that name a bad name. The agenda always is: Concentrate more power in Washington, more Washington power in the executive branch and more executive power in agencies run by experts. Then trust the experts to be disinterested and prudent with their myriad intrusions into, and minute regulations of, Americans’ lives. Obama’s presidency may yet be, on balance, a net plus for the public good if it shatters Americans’ trust in the regulatory state’s motives.

Now, regarding Obama’s second-term agenda. His re-election theme — re-elect me because I am not Mitt Romney — yielded a meager mandate, and he used tactics that are now draining the legitimacy an election is supposed to confer.

One tactic was to misrepresent the Benghazi attack, lest it undermine his narrative about taming terrorism. Does anyone think the administration’s purpose in manufacturing 12 iterations of the talking points was to make them more accurate?

Another tactic was using the “federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” The words are from a 1971 memo by the then-White House counsel, John Dean, whose spirit still resides where he worked before he went to prison. Congress may contain some Democrats who owed their 2012 election to the IRS’ suppression of conservative political advocacy.

Obama’s supposed “trifecta” of scandals — Benghazi, the IRS and the seizure of Associated Press phone records — neglects some. A fourth scandal is power being wielded by executive branch officials (at the National Labor Relations Board and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) illegally installed in office by presidential recess appointments made when the Senate was not in recess.

A fifth might be Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius soliciting, from corporations in industries HHS regulates, funds to replace some that Congress refused to appropriate. The money is to be spent by nonprofit — which does not mean nonpolitical — entities. The funds are to educate Americans about, which might mean (consider the administration’s Benghazi and IRS behaviors) propagandize in favor of, Obamacare and to enroll people in its provisions. The experienced (former governor, former secretary of education, 10 years in the Senate) and temperate Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., compares this to the Iran-contra scandal, wherein the Reagan administration raised private funds to do what Congress had refused to do — finance the insurgency against Nicaragua’s government.

Obama’s incredibly shrinking presidency is a reminder that politics is a transactional business, trust is the currency of the transactions, and the currency has been debased. For example:

Obama says: Trust me, I do not advocate universal preschool simply to swell the ranks of unionized, dues-paying, Democrat-funding teachers. Trust me, I know something not known by the social scientists who say the benefits of such preschool are small and evanescent.

Obama says: Trust me, the science of global warming is settled. And trust me that although my plans to combat global warming, whenever the inexplicable 16-year pause of it ends, would vastly expand government’s regulatory powers, as chief executive I guarantee that these powers will be used justly.

Obama says: Trust me, although I am head of the executive branch, I am not responsible for the IRS portion of this branch.

Obama says: Trust me, my desire to overturn a Supreme Court opinion (Citizens United) that expanded First Amendment protection of political speech, and my desire to “seriously consider” amending the First Amendment to expand the government’s power to regulate the quantity, content and timing of political advocacy, should be untainted by what the IRS did to suppress advocacy by my opponents.

Because Obama’s agenda involves enlarging government’s role in allocating wealth and opportunity, the agenda now depends on convincing Americans to trust him, not their lying eyes. In the fourth month of his second term, it is already too late for that.

George Will is a columnist for the Washington Post.

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  1. Mr. Will is right. Trust is like a glass of crystal clear water. Once you add a drop or two of food coloring, you can't get it out.

    Carmine D

  2. The We, the People, of the United States of America, lost complete trust of the Federal government, when career politicians voted to give "personhood" to corporations. Every American who is NOT a corporate principle, lost their vote in our country's governance forever, until this atrosity is repealed.

    It is real hard to trust a government that bails out the "too big to fail" yet allows millions of hard-working, trusting Citizens be an acceptable loss.

    This is NOT about just the President, it is about the bad apples on the government tree that rot and contaminate the others. Although the writer would solely blame President Obama, the government was full of bad apples long before he took office, so why make this so personal?

    Empower the People, disempower corporations, tighten our borders and immigration policies, and keep our involvement in other countries to a minimum, and we will recover TRUST. Thank you.

    Blessings and Peace,

  3. Should we REALLY be listening to Republican'ts discussing "crises"? This is the Party that enacted the very FIRST income tax - in 1862. This is the party that has spent most of a century trying eliminate the modern income tax. And this is the party that is up in arms at the IRS again - This time because the agency revived a tactic used by Tricky Dick Nixon, and Ronald Reagan, Republican't Presidents in good standing.

    This is the party that rails incessantly about the bias of the "lame-stream media" and then rails because the Justice Department subpoenas records from that same "lame-stream media."

    This is the party that was running the State Department from early 2001 to early 2009 - a time when there were a dozen or so attacks on US embassy facilities resulting in 50 or so deaths - and now rails about ONE attack in Benghazi, which may actually have housed a CIA facility (used by 30+ CIA people and only 8 State Department people) operating under a State Department cover.

    This is the party so engrossed in trying to decide just how the President was personally and totally responsible for the Benghazi attack that it has no time to determine the possible causes for the attack and how to prevent them from happening again. Particularly when the evidence suggests Republican'ts in the House failed to fund needed security improvements.

    On second thought, maybe we SHOULD listen to the Republican'ts. After all, they have a long and proven track-record in generating scandals. Their long experience MIGHT actually be useful in identifying others' scandals - but not in preventing the next round, especially those under some future Republican't President.

  4. "This is the party that was running the State Department from early 2001 to early 2009 - a time when there were a dozen or so attacks on US embassy facilities resulting in 50 or so deaths"

    Please tell us how many were Americans and in particular U.S. Ambassadors.

    Carmine D

  5. To drive home his messaging that Americans have lost trust in President Obama, George Will's column repeated the word "trust" 11 times, as well as "agenda" and "tactic(s)" for a total of 10 times. This backfired, however, because most Sun readers realized the real truth, namely that Will and his fellow GOP operatives and obstructionists, are the ones they do not trust.

    Will said, "Obama's presidency may yet be...a net plus ...if it shatters Americans' trust in the regulatory state's motives." I think most people condone regulation that "checks" the increasing power of self-serving modern, global business and investment. Today's golden rule is "he who has the gold makes the rules." (That's not American government entities.)

    Speaking of gold, yesterday in the Review-Journal, columnist Paul Harasim reminded readers that "1 percent of the nation now controls 40 percent of the nation's wealth." That translates to power that can bias elections and "own" government officials. As Star stated in a comment above: Americans "lost complete trust in the Federal goverment, when career politicians voted to give 'personhood' to corporations." My understanding is that President Obama is working to reverse the law that permits unlimited political contributions.

    I do not trust George Will, because he glosses over issues and simplifies or skews his criticisms. For example, he tried to discredit President Obama by associating him with the Benghazi so-called coverup. However, during one of the TV presidential debates between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the host verified that President Obama had stated early on in the Rose Garden that it could have been a terrorist attack. (During that "debate" it was obvious which candidate spewed "squawking points" and which one, sat quietly, and truthfully addressed the question.)

    Mike Smith's cartoon in today's Sun depicts President Obama pointing to the GOP scowling Elephant and saying, "They're obsessed with enemies. Determined to destroy opponents. Angry at detractors. And they say I'm Nixonian." My note is: They also say Americans don't trust President Obama.