May 17, 2013
Prompted by Peggy Noonan’s claim in The Wall Street Journal that “we are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate,” Andrew Sullivan steps forward to defend Pres. Obama’s honor. “Can she actually believe this?,” he asks incredulously. “Has this president broken the law, lied under oath, or authorized war crimes? Has he traded arms for hostages with Iran? Has he knowingly sent his cabinet out to tell lies about his sex life? Has he sat by idly as an American city was destroyed by a hurricane? Has he started a war with no planning for an occupation? Has he started a war based on a lie, and destroyed the US’ credibility and moral standing while he was at it, leaving nothing but a smoldering and now rekindled civil sectarian war?”
An Obama critic, having overplayed her hand, gave Sullivan an opening to respond with what amounts to, “It isn’t as bad as Watergate, nor as bad as George W. Bush.” Let’s concede those points. I don’t much care what Obama’s Republican critics say about him. The scandals they’re presently touting, bad as two of them are, aren’t even the worst of Team Obama’s transgressions.
I have a stronger critique. Sullivan hasn’t internalized the worst of what Obama’s done, because his notion of scandal is implicitly constrained by whatever a president’s partisan opponents tout as scandalous. If they criticize Obama wrongly, he defends Obama proportionately.