What the Obama Scandals Reveal About Progressive Ideology

by Bruce S. Thornton


The three scandals dominating the news this week all reveal the moral and intellectual corruption at the heart of progressive ideology. Whether or not these revelations gain enough traction to halt the country’s downward spiral is the more important question.


The moment it came into office the Obama administration bought into the delusional narrative that Islamic jihadist terror is a response to Western historical crimes against Muslims, rather than an expression of Islamic theology. The Israeli “occupation” of Palestine, the depredations of colonialism and imperialism, the resulting dysfunctional economies and oppressive governments in Muslim countries, the arrogant xenophobia and intolerance of American culture, the invasions of Muslim countries after 9/11––all were identified as the “root causes” of terrorism.

Obama’s foreign policy, based on the assumptions of American guilt and the malign consequences of George Bush’s arrogant, unilateralist foreign policy, thus was an attempt to correct the bad policies and behaviors that instigated terror. Thus Obama apologized in his Cairo speech, eagerly extended a diplomatic “hand” to the genocidal mullahs in Iraq, rushed for the exits in Iraq and Afghanistan, supported the dubious “Arab Spring” uprisings and their Islamist prime movers like the Muslim Brothers, and distanced America from Israel.

The intervention in Libya seemed to be an easy way to validate these beliefs, at the same time avoiding the charge of retreat and withdrawal from America’s global responsibilities to advance human rights and protect the victims of tyranny. The overthrow of Gaddafi was sanctioned by the U.N. and engineered by NATO, thus confirming the progressive belief that unilaterally pursuing national interests was, like nationalism itself, immoral, and that only transnational collective action sanctioned by international institutions was legitimate.

For a while the optics were good. A creepy psychopath was eliminated, no casualties were suffered, and a seemingly secular democracy was aborning. The idealism of democracy promotion, one bungled by the unilateral, trigger-happy George Bush, was indulged at little political cost, while the “legitimate” war, against al Qaeda, was being pursued just as cheaply with out-of-sight, out-of-mind drone killings, proving that Obama was no crypto-pacifist squish. Hence the foreign policy narrative peddled during the presidential campaign that al Qaeda was on the ropes and democracy was on the march.

The attack on Benghazi on the anniversary of 9/11, eight weeks before the election, exploded that narrative. Al Qaeda and its affiliates were not on the ropes, but were growing and expanding, and could swiftly organize the sack of an embassy office and the murder of four Americans, including an ambassador, humiliating the infidel superpower. Libya was not a democracy-in-the-making, but a Darwinian tribal and sectarian jungle dominated by jihadists armed with the weapons we put in their hands when we destroyed the Gaddafi regime. The refusal to beef up security in Benghazi, which would have been an admission that things weren’t so rosy in the fledgling democracy, now looked like a political calculation that cost American lives. Worse yet, once more the idea that terrorism is a response to our bad behavior was exploded, as many of those Libyans we had liberated turned against us, just as thousands of Afghans and Iraqis have.

So of course the attack had to be spun into something closer to Obama’s foreign policy narrative: the attack was caused by a “spontaneous” protest against an Internet video insulting Mohammed. The administration knew this was a lie the day of the attack, but could not admit this repudiation of Obama’s foreign policy claims so close to the election, and so kept repeating the lie for two weeks, trusting the media spaniels to spin the attack and collude in the still on-going cover-up.

IRS Political Harassment

The IRS’s targeting of groups associated with conservative organizations applying for tax-exempt status is a predictable consequence of the progressive narrative that conservatism is a form of neurosis, the lashing out of ignorant, violent “bitter clingers” against a changing world that challenges their racial privilege, economic power, and religious superstitions. The fondness of groups like the Tea Party for the Bill of Rights and the Constitution reflects this psychopathology, the desire to “turn back the clock” and restore their once exalted social and political position. As such, they are dangerous––and armed to boot––and so require monitoring by all right-thinking people who are progressing towards the utopia of “social justice.”

So it’s no surprise that IRS functionaries would create investigative rubrics like “Tea Party” or “patriot” that reflect these assumptions in order to guide them in their scrutiny of groups seeking tax-exempt status. These bureaucrats have absorbed the narrative from the mainstream media and popular culture, both of which are steeped in the two-bit pop psychologizing that passes for wisdom among those who fancy themselves the enlightened “anointed,” as Thomas Sowell calls them. Nor are they troubled at using the coercive power of the state to pursue these political agendas, for one of the most important progressive principles is that righteous ends can justify a whole range of brutal means.

Whether or not someone in the Obama administration directly ordered the IRS to pursue this partisan harassment is irrelevant. Like the Corleone family, the administration has a lot of “buffers.” No one had to be told, just as the progressives don’t have to tell anyone in Hollywood to make yet another movie or television show denigrating and demonizing corporations, conservatives, Christians, or the CIA. That is what’s so insidious about this ideology: it has permeated the minds of people to the point that unsavory actions advancing the cause are never questioned or doubted. In the progressive mind, dogma rules, not principle. Hence the righteous act to advance ideologically sanctioned political ends without bothering about coherent or consistent principle.

The AP Wiretaps

The Department of Justice’s trolling through 2 months’ worth of phone conversations of Associated Press reporters and editors in order to discover the source of a leak reveals another moral dysfunction of progressives: their noisy evocation of principles they routinely ignore when the other side is the victim. At the same time the AP and the ACLU have been loudly invoking the First Amendment and overusing the “chilling effect” cliché, the Departments of Justice and Education sent out a letter mandating that every college and university on the Federal dole have to institute speech codes that blatantly violate the Constitution. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, “The letter states that ‘sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature”‘ including ‘verbal conduct’ (that is, speech). It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an ‘objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation’—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.” As FIRE president Greg Lukianoff says, “The federal government has put colleges and universities in an impossible position with this mandate. With this unwise and unconstitutional decision, the DOJ and DOE have doomed American campuses to years of confusion and expensive lawsuits, while students’ fundamental rights twist in the wind.”

So two powerful federal bureaucracies wantonly jeopardize the free-speech rights and academic freedom of students and faculty in higher education –– sending an Arctic blast through the presumed bastion of the “free play of the mind on all subjects,” as Matthew Arnold put it –– and the media yawn. But let the Feds access some news-agency’s phone records to track down a leak that they claimed put our national security at risk, and the howling is deafening. No matter how specious the DOJ’s pretext or ham-handed its actions, they are certainly more respectable and defensible than the cooked-up crisis of sexual harassment in higher education, and the assault on those institutions’ core principle of academic free speech.

But that’s the modus operandi of the progressives. Democracy, human rights, free speech, individualism are all great when they serve the progressive agenda of growing the Leviathan state in order to coerce citizens into paying obeisance to the goals of “social justice.” If they don’t serve those goals, then the freedoms and rights of conservatives, Christians, capitalists, gun-owners, and other enemies of the state can be abused. But when it’s the progressives’ political ox that’s gored, then we hear the bellowing paeans to the First Amendment.

As these three scandals show, progressivism is a totalitarian ideology that seeks more and more power in order to institutionalize its dangerous ideas about human nature, the good life, and justice, and that considers any end advancing those ideas to be justified. Which brings us to the important questions––Will the voters see that these scandals are the signs of those failed ideas, and reverse our descent into big government’s “soft despotism”? Or will they just shrug them off as politics as usual?

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