Dear Mr. President,
Your White House currently has, in its possession, emails to and from a woman named Lois Lerner. They come from the period 2009 to 2011, as your tax-collecting agency abused and marginalized the conservative movement from Washington to El Monte, California. Your own White House officials were in contact, over email, with Ms. Lerner during this time.
You need to give up those emails now. Congress needs them to determine how much abuse occurred, who ordered it, and who covered it up. It’s a law-enforcement matter in the present. But what about the future?
We understand that it’s hard for you to show the country exactly what’s been happening in your administration. Heck, it would be hard for the country too. Nobody wants to think that you, the winner of two national elections, the modern Kennedy at the podium, could have overseen a program of harassment that threatens the very fabric of our democracy. Nobody really wants to think that it was anything other than a computer crash, a goof-up by rogue agents in the Cincinnati office, a phony scandal.
Since our founding, Americans have been relatively circumspect, with a few exceptions, about who we trust to help us keep the republic. In two separate elections, we — a majority of us at least — trusted you.
Your administration entered into a media grace period that felt like it could last forever. And it lasted quite a deal longer than it should have. You governed by a succession of cute tableaus: funeral photos with foreign dignitaries, meticulously designed games of pickup basketball and all-important White House Correspondents Dinners. Whether killing a fly in a TV interview or calling Kanye West a “jackass,” you relished in your fame. Its benefits lasted you through a fevered health-care battle and a midterm loss in the House. It carried you so far, in fact, that four years down the line you were still able to run for re-election against your predecessor.
Your grace period lasted longer than any modern president. Longer than your frenemy Bill Clinton’s, the sax-slinging Baby Boomer. He harshed America’s mellow in his very first year in office with Somalia and Hillarycare. Even Ronald Reagan took a bullet in the chest but still couldn’t climb over 40 percent in the Gallup poll during the ’83 recession. You’re a lucky man with a 44 percent approval rating in this, your sixth year in office.
You dealt with scandals in the cutest way possible. Your excuses were outlandish, childish, completely out of proportion to the gravity of the alleged conduct involved. Remember when al-Qaida attacked our consulate, murdered our ambassador and you blamed it on a Youtube video? When a terrorist group you failed to prosecute kidnapped schoolgirls and your staff tweeted sad-face White House selfies? When you settled the whole Obamacare rollout between the ferns of an Internet comedy show?
Or when the IRS targeting scandal — the one about the government suppressing the political speech of conservatives across the nation — gained its own presidential sound-byte befitting a children’s lesson: “Not a smidgen of corruption.” (Let’s not forget that you once called it “outrageous.”)
And now, six years in, you’re at it yet again.
“You’ve never heard of a computer crashing before?” your new White House press flack Josh Earnest said yesterday to your fans in the media. It doesn’t matter, really, whether the computer crash ever actually happened. All that matters is that it’s plausible. It’s been heard of before. It’s another fatuous screwup in the running sitcom that is your government. Can’t we all just picture that computer crashing and Lois Lerner being all frazzled about it, just like us and our work friends at the office!
Does it matter that your IRS commissioner said back in March that Lerner’s emails were all saved on a computer server? Does it matter that the IRS was legally required to keep all agency emails and to even print them out in the event of a computer crash? Or is it all just another fable, cooked up by the handpicked literary types that craft the narrative of your administration? Is Ms. Lerner’s computer crash just like the YouTube video before it, just eccentric enough to seem true?
“The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest” wrote Thomas Jefferson in 1774, when he was still outlining the “Rights of British America.” Jefferson, as did his protege Madison, knew the lies that would corrupt their republic would not be told in the defining public debates, but rather along the edges of governance. They would be cute falsehoods, little white lies designed to turn wrongdoings into common editorial cartoons. The more trivial-sounding, the more serious the crimes.
Your administration has shown little regard for the Fourth Amendment, an outright hatred for the Second, a misunderstanding of how to exploit the Fifth, and, well, y’all just pretended the Tenth wasn’t even there. But the IRS targeting scandal, which now revolves around Ms. Lerner’s emails, could be your government’s greatest assault on the First.
If those who disagree with the government are no longer allowed to exercise their political speech, then we have effectively tossed out the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. We no longer practice the democracy of Jefferson and Madison. We no longer keep Franklin’s republic. We go the way of so many other great democracies — like the kind that elected Julius Caesar emperor for life.
We become a banana republic. A falsehood on the world stage. We become an entity the likes of which no Founding Father ever designed and no Constitution was ever meant to govern. We enter into a political age without precedent, right here within our own shores.
This is no joke. This is no cute little sound byte. This is no computer crash. This is the abyss staring at us as we stand on the edge of history. Have we ever been this close before? Did Nixon ever pause from his break-ins, Reagan from his hostage deals, Clinton from his office romps, to carry out the assassination of an entire ideology practiced by half of their own people?
Give up those emails. Give up those emails or you will not only stand as a disgrace in our history books, but you will threaten to burn those history books themselves. Give up those emails or know that you will have done more to corrupt our democratic institutions than any man or woman before you. And then think about what could come after you.
For the sake of so much that is better, that is more inspiring, that is more important to our country and the world than you will ever be: give up those emails. Give up the disgraces hidden within them so as to relieve us of the disgrace playing out today in front of our very eyes.
We know it might pain you to hear it, but you’re not the most important part of this anymore. Give up those emails. And let us read what your government has done.
- Patrick Howley, for the Editors