Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The President Won–Sort Of

The administration spent the last six months of the campaign in cover-up mode.

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

On September 11, 2012, Barack Obama was 1 point ahead of Mitt Romney in the ABC and Washington Post polls. He was scheduled to meet Romney in three weeks for the first debate. The president was increasingly anxious. Unemployment was still at 7.8 percent, and the Solyndra and Fast and Furious scandals had only recently disappeared from the news — and they had done so only thanks to the use of executive privilege.

But the Tea Party seemed to have lost its 2010 momentum, despite its renewed warnings that Obamacare would be a disaster if not repealed in 2013. The president was running on the slogan that GM was alive and bin Laden was dead — the implications being that massive influxes of borrowed federal money had allowed GM’s work force to survive, and that with the death of bin Laden came the unraveling of the “core” of al-Qaeda. Libya, of course, was cited as an overseas success — a sort of implied un-Iraq.

The contours of the campaign, in other words, were well drawn. Obama claimed that he had brought peace overseas and restoration at home, while Romney claimed that we were less secure on President Obama’s watch and that the economy was ossified because of too much debt and government spending.

And the race was neck and neck. In a few days the secretly taped “47 percent” Romney video would emerge and tar with Romney with the charge of social insensitivity. And in the second debate, in mid-October, the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, in utterly unprofessional fashion, would interrupt Romney’s reference to Benghazi and cite a transcript in such a way as to falsely turn Obama’s generic reference to terrorism into an explicit presidential condemnation of the Benghazi attacks as a terrorist action, and swing the momentum of the debate back to a stumbling Barack Obama.

Again, as of September 11, the race was dead even.

Beneath Obama’s calm veneer that September there were lots of things the public did not know, and from the administration’s point of view apparently should not know until after the election. Just three months earlier, the Treasury Department’s inspector general had reported to top Treasury officials that the Internal Revenue Service had been inordinately targeting conservative groups that were seeking tax-exempt status. Such political corruption of the IRS was a Nixonian bombshell, with enormous implications for the election, especially given that during the campaign Obama’s economic adviser Austan Goolsbee had claimed that he had knowledge about the Koch brothers’ tax returns, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was lauding himself as a “wrecking crew” as he swore he had the inside dope on Mitt Romney’s taxes. Note that while Nixon talked tough about using the IRS, the agency resisted his efforts; in Obama’s case, the more the administration has denied political pressure, the more the evidence has come out that politics had long ago corrupted the agency — whose reputation has been ruined under this administration for the foreseeable future.

The inspector general of the Treasury recently testified before Congress that he had told Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin of the IRS’s shenanigans in June 2012, five months before the election. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, who had been grilled during confirmation hearings about his own improper tax deductions, must at some point have been told of the IRS mess, but somehow all these disturbing developments were kept under wraps for the duration of the campaign. Are we to believe that, each time Geithner met with the president between June and November, he did not mention the scandal brewing in his department because his own deputy had never told him?

In other words, in cynical fashion, the Obama team won on two counts: The IRS had intimidated conservative organizations for months and had very possibly helped to prevent them from repeating their successes of 2010, while keeping the illegal activity from the press and the public.

As of September 11, 2012, the American people also did not know that the attorney general’s office had four months earlier been conducting secret monitoring of two months’ worth of records of calls made from private and work phone lines of Associated Press reporters — this surveillance supposedly due to suspicions that administration sources were leaking classified information to these reporters.

But something was awry here too. First, the administration did not start by apprising AP that it wished to talk to their suspect reporters, as is normal protocol. Stranger still, the administration itself apparently had leaked classified information about the Stuxnet cyber-war virus, the drone protocols, and the Seal Team 6 raid that killed bin Laden (remember Defense Secretary Bob Gates’s “Shut the f*** up!”) — all in efforts to persuade the voting public that their president was far more engaged in the War on Terror than his critics had alleged.

These efforts to squelch any mention of the monitoring of journalists worked as well. Reporters were outraged when they eventually learned that some of their brethren had been subjected to stealthy government surveillance — but they learned this a year after the fact and only following the reelection of Barack Obama.

On September 11, 2012, of course, there was the violent attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead, and a host of unanswered questions in the heat of the campaign: What was such a large CIA operation doing in Benghazi? Why was our ambassador left so vulnerable both before and during the attack? Why had the much-praised “lead from behind” campaign to remove Qaddafi earned us a dead ambassador and a nation full of anti-American terrorists, some of them perhaps al-Qaeda–related?

We know now from a flurry of e-mails, public talking points, and public statements from staffers that when the president himself, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, and Press Secretary Jay Carney insisted that the attack grew out of a spontaneous demonstration over an Internet video, they knew in reality that the video had nothing to do with the attack.

Yet coming clean before the American people apparently might have involved explaining why no one in Washington was willing to beef up security in answer to Ambassador Stevens’s requests. And during the attack, worry over a Mogadishu-like firefight two months before the election may have been why the administration ordered available units to stand down rather than sending in help by any means necessary. The truth was clear: Libya was not quiet, nor was al-Qaeda leaderless.

Instead, blaming the violence on a petty crook and supposed “Islamophobe” squared the circle: A right-wing bigot had caused the problem; he could be summarily jailed; and the president could both be absolved from blame for the unexpected violence and praised for his multicultural bona fides in condemning such a hateful voice on our soil. Again, the cover-up worked perfectly in accordance with the September campaign narrative. The American people did not find out the truth of what happened in Benghazi — the “consulate” was never attacked by “spontaneous” demonstrators enraged by a video emanating from the United States — until eight months after the attack.

In the matters of the Associated Press surveillance, the IRS scandal, and Benghazi, the White House prevailed — keeping from the public embarrassing and possibly illegal behavior until the president was safely reelected. As in the mysteries surrounding David Petraeus’s post-election resignation, and the revelation about the “train wreck” of Obamacare, what the voters knew prior to November about what their government was up to proved far different than what they are just beginning to know now. And so Obama won the election, even as he is insidiously losing half the country.

Because breaking the law and telling untruths eventually surface, we will come to learn that Obama was reelected into oblivion.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals is just out from Bloomsbury Books.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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