“Know what I was most proud of?” presidential candidate Joe Biden told a crowd on Wednesday. “For eight years, there wasn’t one single hint of a scandal or a lie.”
In an era where every presidential tweet is an existential threat to democracy, there are probably plenty of people who believe this myth. Off the bat, though, it should be mentioned that even liberal factchecking outfit PolitiFact once awarded Barack Obama the “Lie of Year” for misleading the American people about his technocratic health-care plan.
Our former vice president, no slouch about misleading the public on the ACA, probably forgot.
Obama’s most famous lie, of course, upturned millions of lives. Without it, it’s doubtful Obamacare—which was perhaps the only wholly partisan national reform effort in American history—would ever have passed. Even with a stream of falsehoods, the bill had to be shoe-horned through Congress. Media did a lot of heavy lifting for the administration in those heady days.
“If you like your health care plan, you can keep it” was only one of an array of demonstrably false statements fed to the public to give (now-extinct) moderate Democrats cover. You might remember one of Obamacare’s architects, Jonathan Gruber, explaining how this “lack of transparency” compounded by “the stupidity of the American voter” was a huge political advantage for the administration. Or maybe you don’t.
How many Americans knew, for instance, that “Operation Fast and Furious” put around 2,000 weapons into the hands of narco-traffickers (and an Islamic terrorist), leading to the murder of hundreds of Mexican citizens, and at least one American, a border agent named Brian Terry? Not enough.
There must have been at least a sniff of scandal, by the way, because even after a federal judge rejected Obama’s assertion of executive privilege in efforts to deny Congress files relating to the operation, the administration wouldn’t budge. Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, refused to cooperate in the investigation, becoming the first sitting attorney general in American history to be held in contempt of Congress — a vote that included 17 Democrats.
That’s odd, because today asserting executive privilege is exactly like Watergate. And ignoring courts? Well, Obama did that all the time.
Then again, Obama could secretly send planes filled with cash to pay ransom to an Islamist terror state responsible for the deaths of hundreds of American servicemen (using money that had been earmarked for terror victims), and most reporters would still regurgitate echo-chamber talking points. You remember Ben Rhodes bragging about how the Obama administration could trick 27-years-olds whose “only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns” because they “literally know nothing?”
Politico’s Josh Meyer, who did know something, would write a deeply sourced piece—featuring numerous real-life, on-the-record administration officials— about the Obama administration’s efforts to undermine investigations into a drug-trafficking ring run by Hezbollah operating in the United States, and most major news organizations never even mentioned it.
Today, President Trump’s Twitter attacks on CNN reporters are threats to the future of free expression. Back in 2012, the Obama’s Department of Justice spied on the Associated Press, tapping around 20 different phone lines—including cell phone and home lines—that captured at least 100 staffers who worked for the outlet. The government kept records of all outgoing calls “for both the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters” and the main line used by reporters in the House of Representatives.
The Justice Department had already spied on Fox News reporter James Rosen in 2010, collecting his telephone records, looking at his personal emails, and tracking his movements. Holder, by the way, shopped the case to three separate judges, until he found one who let him name Rosen a co-conspirator in the crime of reporting the news. If only this episode had gotten a fraction of the breathless coverage of a William Barr letter.
There is, of course, so much more. Obama’s CIA director, John Brennan, oversaw an operation of illegal spying on a staffer of the legislative branch of the U.S. government. At least five agency officials under his watch broke into Senate computer files, viewing drafts of a report on torture and reconstructing emails of at least one staffer. Brennan would attempt to cover up the agency’s actions by doubling down, blaming the Senate, and pushing to fire at least one staffer charged with investigating his agency.
Then there is Obama’s director of national intelligence, James Clapper, who brazenly lied to Congress about spying on American citizens.
Biden might not remember that Internal Revenue Service leadership aggressively targeted conservative groups to undermine their voice in elections. The IRS admitted as much in an apology letter. Then there was Obama national security advisor Susan Rice, who went on national television and claimed that terrorist attacks against Americans at Benghazi were a “spontaneous reaction” to “hateful and offensive video,” even when she knew it was a sophisticated and pre-planned terror attack. Defenders of free expression were nowhere to be found as the maker of the video was conveniently thrown into jail.
There were cronyistic green projects that enriched political allies. There was the Secret Service’s many embarrassing breaches and general debauchery. There was Hillary Clinton’s infamous attempts to circumvent transparency — more than likely to cover up favor-trading. Even more seriously, there was Veterans Affairs negligence.
Then again, perhaps Biden feels “most proud” of his mythical eight years of non-scandals because it’s about the only thing in his political past he isn’t going to be forced to abandon.