Scandals reveal an aloof president

The press reveals yet another Washington scandal:

• The administration compiles a list of political enemies and attempts to intimidate them after obtaining information illegally. 

• The White House formulates talking points to deny knowledge in an attempt to cover up the scandal. 

• The president says, “I can say categorically that ... no one in the White House staff, no one in this administration, presently employed, was involved.”  

• Congress holds hearings to investigate the erupting scandal. 

• In an effort to divert the public’s attention from himself, the president demands the resignation of key figures involved in the scandal.

Oh, by the way, the circumstances above are not pulled from recent headlines on Benghazi, Libya, the IRS, or the Justice Department, but rather from 40 years ago during the Watergate scandal.

If you remember the history of the Watergate break-in, President Nixon wasn’t directly involved. However, the culture of his administration allowed it to take place. Instead of demanding accountability and punishing those responsible, the president’s instinct for political survival took over and led to a cover-up, which ultimately was Nixon’s undoing. 

While recent scandals engulfing the Obama administration may not rise to the level of Watergate, the parallels are concerning. Recent events have placed a spotlight on the culture of the administration, whether it is finger pointing over Benghazi, the IRS targeting Tea Party organizations for extra scrutiny, or the DOJ obtaining phone records of reporters.

All of these scandals share a common thread: The president’s lack of engagement allowed them to occur, and a lack of accountability followed after they came to light.

Take the IRS scandal as an example. Starting three years ago, IRS employees singled out nearly 100 groups that had applied for tax-exempt status, merely because their name included “Tea Party,” “patriot,” or “9/12.” For more than two years, not one Tea Party organization was granted nonprofit status, while dozens of groups with liberal-sounding names received approval in just months.

The Tea Party groups singled out by the IRS were subject to probing questions and threats from the agency. Incredibly, the IRS requested the groups turn over membership lists, lists of their donors, lists of books they were reading, materials they handed out at meetings, posts on their websites and social media sites, and much more. As House Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerRepublicans fear retribution for joining immigration revolt Freedom Caucus bruised but unbowed in GOP primary fights GOP revolts multiply against retiring Ryan MORE (R-Ohio) stated, “My question isn’t about who’s going to resign. My question is, who’s going to jail over this scandal?” 

Nixon was also known to maintain “enemy lists” and used the IRS to punish his political adversaries. It appears the culture of retribution is alive and well 40 years later.

When the IRS scandal broke, the White House spin machine went into high gear. Like Nixon, Obama distanced himself, saying, “I certainly did not know” and calling the IRS an “independent” agency. 

Following script, the administration found its scapegoat in acting IRS Commissioner Steven Miller, who was asked to resign — even though he was planning to leave a month later. Then Joseph Grant, the commissioner of the tax-exempt division, announced he was “retiring” in June even though he had been promoted to the position days ago.  

However, denying responsibility and throwing IRS officials under the bus does not wipe clean the president’s hands. As President Truman was famous for saying, “The buck stops here.” While it’s unlikely Obama ordered — or had direct knowledge of — what the IRS was doing, he bears ultimate responsibility. True leadership is defined by accepting responsibility.

Unfortunately, the common theme emerging from the Obama administration these days is a disengaged president unaware of problems that are happening on his watch. When scandals bubble up, his first instinct is to place the blame on underlings and duck responsibility. That is not leadership.

The American public deserves a full investigation and demands accountability. It’s important that IRS and Obama administration officials are called to the carpet to find out what they knew and when they knew it. Those who are responsible should be fired and potentially prosecuted for breaking the law.

It is crucial for the public to regain confidence in the integrity of the IRS and restore a nonpartisan culture within the agency. After all, the IRS will play a pivotal role in implementing and enforcing the controversial healthcare law known as ObamaCare. The public needs assurances that the thousands of IRS agents responsible for enforcing the law will act appropriately.

It all comes back to accountability. The culture that has pervaded the Obama administration must not continue, and it’s up to the president to fix it. 

After he resigned, Nixon said, “I was wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.” Those words should be a lesson to Obama and his aides.

McKinley, a native of Wheeling and a civil engineer, represents West Virginia’s 1st congressional district in the House of Representatives.