By John Feehery - 06/03/13 11:17 PM EDT
“The question is, is that all Congress is going to do? Are we just going to be obsessed with scandal and trying to score political points, or the American people could not be screaming any more loudly, ‘Worry about us.’ ‘Work on the economy.’ ”
That is what David Plouffe, the former Obama campaign political guru, had to say about the various scandals that beset the administration on ABC’s Sunday morning show.
The American people are worried about their daily lives and about the state of our nation’s economy, and as I wrote in this newspaper last week, Republicans would make a mistake if they were to focus solely on scandal to advance their political objectives.
But these scandals matter, and they threaten this White House in one all-pervasive way: by further diminishing the people’s trust in government.
The president’s major philosophical argument is that it is proper and fitting to have government fix problems big and small for the people. Everything they have done, from ObamaCare to the government bailout of General Motors to the stimulus package, and everywhere in-between, has been based on that simple premise.
But the motif of government as fixer only works as long as people have trust in the government. And polls show that the American people don’t have great trust in the government right now. According to Gallup, only 19 percent of the people polled believe that government in Washington would make the right decisions most the time. Eighty-one percent believe it would make the right decision just some of the time. At the beginning of the president’s second term, Pew Research found “trust in federal government remains mired near a historic low and frustration with government remains high.”
Congress fares worse. Their approval ratings have been at their historic lows — around 13 percent — for close to four years now, and there doesn’t seem to be any hope for a comeback any time soon.
It is not that surprising that people have lost faith in their government. An unpopular war in Iraq, fought under pretenses that turned out to be incorrect, and a financial panic caused in no small part by government interference in the housing marketplace, has soured the American people about government competence.
These scandals will diminish that trust even more, each in their own way. Benghazi and the administration’s clear efforts to trump the facts with political spin hurts the White House’s credibility as it tries to navigate the perilous territory surrounding the meltdown of Syria.
The Internal Revenue Service’s illegal targeting of conservative political groups only serves to confirm the worst fears of any Americans who have reason to fear they are being targeted by the government for harassment based solely on their political views. That the IRS is slated to be the chief administrator of ObamaCare damages the credibility of that new healthcare law.
The fact that a reporter from Fox New, James Rosen, was being investigated as a possible law-breaker by an Eric Holder-led Justice Department, coupled with the revelation that the same department had subpoenaed the phone records of the most respected news gathering operation in the world — The Associated Press — has had an explosive impact on the relationship between the Fourth Estate and the White House. The media, which itself has suffered damage to its reputation as a fair arbiter of the daily news, is justifiably outraged that the Obama administration would allow these investigations to occur. Their questioning of the motives and actions of the Justice Department will also help to shaken the confidence of the people in its government.
None of this is good news for the White House, and it affects everything it’s trying to do to make government an even more pervasive influence in the lives of the people.
The American people care deeply about the role government plays in their lives. These scandals are not just an idle Washington diversion. They go to the heart of a discussion that is occurring around kitchen tables in every part of the country: Can we trust our government to do the right thing for the future of this nation? Can this president lead us honestly, or is he just another politician surrounded by political hacks taking care of themselves rather than this country?
These scandals matter to the American people and any effort to divert attention from them only serves to undermine the administration’s credibility in the long term.
Feehery is president of Quinn Gillespie Communications and spent 15 years working in the House Republican leadership. He is a contributor to The Hill’s Pundits Blog and blogs at thefeeherytheory.com