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Charlie Vignola: A scandal is only a scandal when it happens to Democrats

Posted: May 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Imagine for a moment a President of the United States who ignored warnings about an imminent terrorist threat that resulted in an attack that killed American citizens, then argued that we didn’t need an investigation to figure out what went wrong.

And what if that same president allowed for the wiretapping of innocent Americans in the name of national security, in violation of the Constitution’s 4th Amendment?


And what if that very same president also allowed the IRS to target certain groups that were critical of his administration and his policies, threatening their tax exempt status?


You’d be justifiably outraged, right?


Calls for impeachment and all that?


But here’s the thing: I’m not talking about President Obama — I’m talking about President George W. Bush.


Bush ignored the repeated warnings of terrorism czar Richard Clarke in the nine months leading up to 9/11, then tried to squelch any attempt to investigate the intelligence failures.


Bush illegally wiretapped innocent Americans as part of the Patriot Act, despite his Attorney General John Ashcroft being wary of its legality.


Finally, the IRS under Bush’s watch gave special scrutiny to the NAACP and threatened their tax exempt status.


Of course, you didn’t hear a peep out of conservatives when Bush trampled on our freedoms back then, just like you didn’t hear a peep from them when Bush was busy doubling the national debt.


As is usually the case, a scandal is only a scandal when it happens under a Democratic administration.


Hey, I get it. Republicans are demoralized after badly losing the last election, their policy ideas — like austerity — are looking worse and worse as data comes in from the real world, and their predictions — like raising taxes on the wealthy would stall or destroy the economy –— have been disproven as the Dow hits 15,000, the deficit is rapidly shrinking this year, and unemployment is on a slow but steady downward trajectory.


With their mojo waning and demographic shifts threatening their future, conservatives are desperate for something, anything, to provide them with a last gasp of relevancy — a turn of fortune that could restore some of their diminished luster by removing the luster of the current administration.


Remembering how they knocked down President Bill Clinton in his second term by tying him up in investigations from Travelgate to Whitewater to Paula Jones.


The Republicans are trying to repeat history by doing the same thing to President Obama. It’s a pretty simple tactic: if you can’t beat ‘em, smear ‘em – then win by default.


The problem here is that President Obama isn’t President Clinton. Clinton had some personal peccadillos and genuine moral failings that gave the Republicans plenty of ammunition against him. Interesting how those same moral failings are totally forgivable when it comes to Republicans, as we saw with adulterer Mark Sanford’s recent victory in South Carolina’s special election.


The other problem is that unlike Bush — who decided not to meet with Richard Clarke and heed his warnings, who personally signed the Patriot Act and approved the wiretapping program, and who didn’t speak out when his IRS threatened the NAACP’s tax exempt status — Obama isn’t intimately connected to any of these would-be scandals.


Despite Fox’s attempts to turn Benghazi into some kind of latter-day Watergate, the more we discover about the talking points the more it’s clear this wasn’t a conspiracy but a bureaucratic turf war between the CIA and the State Department, neither of whom wanted to be blamed for the attack. It’s not Watergate: it’s political CYA.


The IRS scrutiny of Tea Party groups looks increasingly like a hamfisted attempt by overwhelmed IRS bureaucrats to deal with the doubling of requests for tax exempt status from organizations in the wake of 2010’s Citizen’s United decision.


This disastrous Supreme Court decision opened the floodgates for more corporate money in politics and drove even more money to be hidden within the 501 (c)(4) tax exempt "social welfare" groups so beloved by Karl Rove and his ilk.


Finally, the Justice Department secretly seizing the phone records of AP reporters to learn who leaked classified information about a Yemen Al Qaeda operation was in fact legal, thanks to the Patriot Act.


While this episode highlights the need to find the proper balance between journalistic freedom and national security interests, it would be criminally negligent for the DOJ not to do everything within its power to prevent the leaking of classified information that could threaten American lives.


Yes, last week was a rough one for the Obama Administration, and a good one for Republicans hoping to rally their dispirited base.


But if Republicans are hoping this will be a quick and easy path to impeach Obama and win back seats in the 2014 midterm elections, they might want to check on the latest polls.


According to CNN and Gallup, President Obama is slightly up in popularity this week, even after this perfect storm of faux scandals.


Charlie Vignola is a former college Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.



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