In the past two weeks, Americans were confronted with the fact that their government engaged in activities repugnant to democratic societies — cover up of mistakes in protecting foreign diplomats, IRS probes of conservative political organizations and secret seizure of more than 100 journalists' phone records. We offer insightful examination (in other words, LaVarr needling Frank, while Frank obfuscates).
Will this "trifecta of government abuse" have a lasting impact on American politics?
Pignanelli: "Congratulations, President Barack Obama — conspiracy theorists who survive in anaerobic environments just had an algae bloom dropped on their heads, thus removing the last arrow in your pro-governance quiver: skepticism about your opponents." — Jon Stewart
Dear readers, please pity me because last week my life was subjected to a harsh alteration. For years, I smugly and gleefully mocked right wing loonies and Fox News sycophants offering bizarre theories of preposterous government actions. This self-righteous joy is now decimated. Of course, Watergate atrocities, Iran-Contra and nonexistent weapons of mass destruction were more horrific than the current misdeeds. But the retort "Obama is not as evil as Nixon!" provides little solace.
This storm will confuse Americans as to the real culprits in the Benghazi disaster (CIA, State Department or both) and cause political 501(c)(4) organizations to flourish, knowing Congress strangles IRS interference. But the most disturbing controversy is receiving the least attention: covert investigations of the Associated Press. Russia and Venezuela harass their news agencies — but not the United States of America. As a columnist and attorney/lobbyist for the Utah press, I am (along with thousands of journalists) outraged the attorney general authorized such brutality to the First Amendment. Whatever free pass the Obama administration enjoyed from the "liberal media" ended and will now receive an extra level of scrutiny. Uncovering leads of sensitive stories by reporters, bloggers, tweeters, etc., will be conducted clandestinely. A liberal Democrat president has forced a return to Deep Throat methods.
Webb: Americans already hold the federal government in very low esteem, and these scandals reduce trust even more. Policy-wise, the real impact will be on Obama's second-term agenda. The White House will be so absorbed in congressional inquiries and putting out fires that his lofty goals will be blocked. Obama's ability to influence midterm elections in 2014 will also be greatly diminished.
Obama can personally survive the storms, assuming all the facts are revealed and investigations determine no personal involvement. He is smart enough to respond aggressively and try to put these matters behind him. The liberal media will still give him cover and push the stories to secondary status as quickly as possible. But his grand design to complete two terms as a transformational president, rising above politics as usual to accomplish grandiose visions, is crushed.
Do these events create opportunities or disadvantages for Utah politicians?
Pignanelli: The public revelation of State Department attempts to restrict information to Congressman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is the media opportunity equivalent to a baseball pitcher asking the opposing batter where he wants the ball thrown to ensure a home run. Chaffetz hit the ball out of the stadium and this watchdog of Obama actions is on a House Leadership path. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was first to castigate the IRS, helping his relationship with conservative activists.
Webb: As ranking Finance Committee Republican, Hatch will lead the charge on IRS abuses; Chaffetz returns to the spotlight in a big way on Benghazi; Sen. Mike Lee and the various tea party groups will enjoy their roles as aggrieved victims; and Congressman Jim Matheson, D-Utah, will just try to keep his distance and dodge bullets.
How will Utah politics be impacted in the long term?
Pignanelli: Unless there are new Republican scandals (a real possibility), conservatives will be energized to punish Obama sympathizers in 2014. Congressman Matheson has adequately distanced himself from the administration to survive any backlash. But other Democrat candidates will have a tough — but necessary — decision to redefine themselves as a Utah-style Democrat or affirm they are a local franchise of the national party.
Webb: Utah has its share of alienated archconservatives, and this time the conspiracy is real. It is reprehensible that the IRS, which can take away your money and property and throw you in prison, inappropriately targeted and intimidated conservative groups.
The Obama administration (with some help from Congress) has already caused more guns and ammunition to be sold, outside of a war, than any short period in world history. Now the administration will also be remembered as the greatest instigator of right-wing paranoia. Joseph Heller wrote in Catch-22: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you." In this case they really were. The dictionary says paranoia "is the irrational and persistent feeling that people are 'out to get you' " Only this time it wasn't irrational. The black helicopters really were out there. Not a figment of right-wing imagination. It was real.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.
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