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George Will: No recovery from the loss of trust

By George Will Modified: May 19, 2013 at 10:07 am •  Published: May 19, 2013
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WASHINGTON — 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 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 American’s 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. 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.

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