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SPOTLIGHT
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Scandal season at Obama White House

Published on -5/23/2013, 9:50 AM

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It's not an easy task, defending President Barack Obama from his enemies.

The "scandals" keep popping up like dandelions -- all of them explainable, after a fashion. Taken together, the explanations begin to sound like "the dog ate my homework." For example:

No one would deny that the attack on our diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four Americans, including our ambassador, was a serious matter.

And no one would claim that the administration's actions either before or after the attack were above reproach. The affair was handled clumsily at best and incompetently at worst.

But an impeachable offense? A Watergate level cover-up? Only in the fevered dreams of the House's right-wing loons like Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

Diplomatic security in war zones is always a delicate balancing act. You want to keep the diplomats safe from attack but you don't want to seal them off from the country, making it impossible for them to do their jobs.

And then there's the question of budget. Security doesn't come cheap and the ruling Republican minority has effectively slashed the State Department budget with the sequester nonsense.

Being a war-zone diplomat these days is a risky business. We took that risk in Benghazi and we lost. That's worth an honest hearing, but not a witch-hunt.

Actually, the real reason the Republicans are making so much of the "cover-up" is that they see it as a chance to discredit Hillary Clinton, the Secretary of State during the Benghazi incident. That will come in handy in case she decides to run for president.

The IRS scandal is another matter altogether.

No one got killed.

What happened was that IRS employees charged with checking on the applications for the non-profit status of groups claiming to be primarily "social welfare" organizations seemed to be singling out conservatives for special scrutiny.

Personally, I think the real scandal there is that Karl Rove managed to co-mingle funds from his Super PAC with his "social welfare" group so that his big money political donors were shielded from having to identify themselves. If Karl Rove is running a social welfare outfit, I'm the Queen of Romania.

But that's not what people are upset about. They're upset about the use of the supposedly impartial IRS as a weapon in the political wars. OK, but it seems to have been a screw-up rather than a malevolent scheme.

Tell that to the tea party people. They hope to use this dust-up to frighten people into rejecting the Affordable Care Act. Don't try and figure out the logic of that. There is none.

The third scandal -- that of subpoenaing reporters' phone records -- disturbs me the most. But then it would. I used to be a reporter myself.

All presidents get paranoid about leaks. All of them try to do something about them, often with disastrous results. The Watergate affair, for example, owed its genesis to President Richard Nixon's efforts to plug leaks.

Sending the Justice Department after people who buy ink by the barrel, however, is almost always a loser's game. Obama will rue the day. He can argue he had no prior knowledge of it but I don't believe him.

Again, put together, these things don't constitute a bill of impeachment but they do have a Nixonian smell about them. They aren't what we expect of a liberal paladin.

And yet, I'm not ready to abandon ship. We live in a two-party system. You don't get to choose the leader who perfectly matches your politics. You get to pick one of two people.

So, would we have been better off right now with Mitt Romney, the smug rich guy who turned himself inside out to grovel before his party's extreme right wing?

Or are we better off with Obama, a somewhat disappointing but far superior alternative?

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

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