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Failure of presidential leadership

By PETER MORICI, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   May 16, 2013 at 12:04 AM   |   Comments

COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 16 (UPI) -- News the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups for intense scrutiny is just one in a series of revelations pointing to a culture of expediency and intolerance in the Obama White House that corrupts this administration.

Consider the September slayings of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other U.S. diplomats in Benghazi. If the attack were revealed to be undertaken by terrorists, it posed a grave embarrassment to the president's anti-terrorism strategy eight weeks before the election.

On Sept. 12, the acting assistant secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs wrote in an email, "The group that conducted the attacks, Ansar al-Sharia, is affiliated with Islamic terrorists."

Yet, on the Sunday talk shows, U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice characterized the incident as the result of spontaneous street demonstrations inspired by an anti-Muhammad YouTube video.

Obamacare, having passed through the U.S. Senate on a slight-of-hand, has been contentious from the start and the Congress hasn't appropriated as much funds as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would like to implement the law.

To do the work of HHS, she has sought large contributions from private healthcare companies to liberal non-profit groups. With healthcare so heavily regulated, it is hard to characterize these donations as voluntary.

No doubt, favors rendered will be returned and it smacks of Chicago-style cronyism and corruption.

Now we learn the U.S. Justice Department misused subpoena powers to engage in sweeping fishing expeditions through Associated Press and personal phone records -- clearly an effort to stifle investigative reporting that the American Civil Liberties Union quickly branded "an unacceptable abuse of power."

In 2010 the IRS began targeting conservative political groups seeking non-profit status for intense scrutiny and harassment. Former IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman and the White House would have us believe they were unaware of this targeting, and Shulman was adamant in denials at congressional hearings on March 22, 2012.

However, we now learn senior IRS officials were informed of inappropriate conduct two months later but Congress wasn't informed.

The White House can be expected to argue that the targeting was the work of overzealous underlings at the IRS inappropriately exercising discretion -- much like the Nixon campaign thugs who broke into Watergate.

This fails to come to terms with the culture of contempt, cultivated by U.S. President Barack Obama and other Democratic leaders, toward those who disagree with their progressive ideas.

Obama's appearance of boredom and disinterest toward former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate and Vice President Joe Biden's disrespectful grinning at vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan were indications of something dangerously wrong with the Washington political culture. Many conservatives view Democrats as not merely wrong but stupid and many liberals view Republicans as not merely wrong but evil.

If your opponents are evil, anything goes.

Campaigns can get that way but the conduct of the president requires a higher standard and he should constrain his lieutenants' more visceral instincts. Instead, Obama cultivates a culture of anything goes to defeat opponents and advance his liberal agenda.

Underlings act accordingly -- any good manger will tell you subordinates exercising discretion take their cues from the conduct of their boss and the messaging of the chief executive officer.

The folks who committed the worst offenses at the IRS were civil servants and three levels below commissioner. However, the IRS isn't a public service that attracts advocates of limited government. You have to be a believer in government -- lots of it -- to make a career as a tax collector and to target political groups seeking to reduce taxes and spending and criticizing how the country is being run.

The president's contempt for political opponents and dissent and expediency in delivering results, has corrupted the most basic functions of government and emboldened those with personal agendas to threaten our liberties.

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(Peter Morici is an economist and professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland, and widely published columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @pmorici1)

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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