Opinion

John Podesta: Barack Obama’s H.R. Haldeman?

Photo of Andrew Marcus
Andrew Marcus
Director, 'Hating Breitbart'

Steven Miller, who until his resignation on Wednesday was the acting commissioner of the IRS, recently explained that “mistakes were made” in the IRS’s deliberate targeting of various conservative organizations. It is a telling phrase, and one that doesn’t bode well for the Obama administration. Ronald Reagan invoked it during the height of the Iran-Contra scandal; more infamously, Richard Nixon and his press secretary, Ron Ziegler, used it to explain away many of the Nixon administration’s abuses. Miller, of course, claims that there was “in no way … any political or partisan motivation,” but when you target groups with “tea party,” “Constitution” or “patriot” in their names as a “shortcut,” the claim of even-handedness becomes something more than laughable — it becomes pathetic.

“There’s an old Greek saying,” Michael Dukakis said in the midst of the 1988 presidential campaign. “A fish rots from the head first. It starts at the top.” A quarter of a century later, we may be witnessing just such rot — an administration whose tone was set by a president who is presiding over an operation that has egregiously and repeatedly overstepped the bounds of the role of a legitimate government in a civil society. Many Americans, especially conservatives, will follow Dukakis’ lead and blame the president. And while there may be some truth to that, perhaps the entire truth is something — or somebody — different. I’m speaking of one of the chief villains in my movie, “Hating Breitbart,” which hits theaters this Friday: Democratic operative John Podesta.

Modern scandals evolve like television dramas — with incremental revelations of increasingly greater detail. As the story slowly (or, sometimes, very quickly) unfolds before our eyes, we become acquainted with the characters and the people surrounding it. Who are the people surrounding Obama’s recent spate of scandals — not only within his administration, but also from the outside? Who is advising him? Who in the media turned a blind eye? Who, exactly, has contributed to the political culture where Soviet-style targeting of political dissidents seems acceptable? We’ll find out over the coming weeks and months.

We know, for example, that certain media leaders are closely connected to this administration. We also know there are those who’ve assisted it by choosing which stories to ignore and which to feature. But who has helped the media choose the most helpful stories? And who has helped shape Obama’s thinking? Is it possible that all of these abuses of power could have been going on without President Obama’s knowledge? Would he claim, like Nixon, that he merely presided over operations without knowing the details — and that any political benefit to him was simply coincidental? In “Hating Breitbart,” John Podesta emerges as someone who perfectly embodies the left’s penchant for creating an environment of corruption, abuse and personal attacks. As the co-chairman of Obama’s 2008-2009 transition team, Podesta obviously enjoys a very close relationship to this White House. Today he runs the Center for American Progress, a far-left think tank, and exerts a great deal of influence in media circles. The political culture he has helped create is exactly what Andrew Breitbart so passionately resisted and despised.

Let me be clear: I have no evidence that Podesta has been personally involved in any of the scandals that are currently rocking the Obama presidency. But what I do know about Podesta is that his Center for American Progress has been instrumental in dehumanizing Obama’s political opponents. In doing so, he has created fertile ground for these scandals to take root.