With accusations abounding over the current government’s alleged cover up of the Benghazi consulate attack, IRS scrutiny of tea party groups, and the acquisition of phone records from The Associated Press, serious questions are being asked of the Obama administration. Some have suggested that the Benghazi “cover-up” is the “worst political scandal in American history.” But with trust in the government trending downwards for years, and considering past administrations, do we just have short memories?
The post-war generation had less reason to distrust the government. A major victory had just been won over Nazi Germany and the Axis Powers and FDR’s New Deal created programs that reinvigorated America’s economy and its people’s quality of life. Combined with this was a higher degree of social interaction than we see today, engendering a greater general sense of trust in others, and also a much smaller role of the media.
The turning point came in the 1970s. Major public opposition to the Vietnam War, fueled heavily by an increasingly prominent media, was shortly followed by the Watergate scandal. Many consider Nixon’s actions and escape of any real punishment to be America’s greatest political scandal, and what would trigger (or at least increase) a steady decline in political trust.
Successive presidents did little to assuage this trend. Gerald Ford, immediately upon entering office, gave Nixon a full pardon, which sparked public outrage and further solidified the growing distrust of the government. Jimmy Carter, a Washington outsider with a strong chance of restoring some of that lost trust, was unable to avoid his own scandals, the most significant involving his brother becoming an agent of Gaddafi’s Libya.
In 1980, Ronald Reagan swept into power as Carter was unable to repair his reputation prior to the election. For many, Reagan is considered the greatest U.S. president of recent times, yet any trust he restored seems misguided considering his administration’s approval of the sale of arms to Iran and of financial support to the Nicaraguan Contras, which continued secretly even after being prohibited by Congress. All those convicted in the ensuing investigation were later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.
In fact, looking back, one is hard pressed to find a president who has failed to contribute to the continued decline of American trust in the government. Clinton’s scandal needs little discussion (one of only two presidents to be impeached), while George W. Bush seems to have largely evaded repercussions for a number of major errors, not least of which was intelligence on the 9/11 plot prior to the event, and the decision to invade Iraq, insisting it had nuclear weapons (it didn’t) and later insisting Iraq had connections to al-Qaeda (it didn’t).
Discussing the above is not intended to justify political corruption, and if the recent allegations turn out to be substantiated, repercussions should follow. I am not here seeking to defend an administration that acts improperly. However, when considering the history of our government, the current vicious and calculated vendetta against President Obama by the Republican Party and the extensive media coverage, some calling for his impeachment, seem perhaps a little disproportionate.
Of course, such tactics are in keeping with the outlandish position that Obama is the worst president in history (a quite preposterous claim, by all accounts). We have a presidential ledger that involves directly funding terrorists, lying under oath, justifying illegal wars, and probably much more that we don’t even know about.
Perhaps, then, a more sober assessment of current events is needed, combined with a realization that corruption may simply be par for the course within our government. Calling for heads to roll may provide momentary reprieve from political distrust, but history tells us that some things may never change.