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.
Podesta really began to hone his dehumanizing skills back during his years with the Clinton administration. He, along with accomplices Sidney Blumenthal and James Carville, was tasked with destroying the reputations of the various victims of Clinton’s apparently insatiable sexual pathologies. Gennifer Flowers was a bimbo; Paula Jones was trailer trash; Monica Lewinsky, perhaps most famously, was characterized as a stalker — until, of course, a certain blue dress adorned with presidential fluids was produced. An effective stalker, indeed.
Fast-forward 15 years to the emergence of the tea party movement. Rather than engage in a grown-up debate on the merits of various policies (like national bankruptcy versus fiscal solvency, for example), John Podesta’s Think Progress blog set out to paint the tea party movement as a bunch of racists and Nazis — literally Nazis.
“Hating Breitbart” plainly documents how Podesta’s operation commandeered a video by citizen journalist Adam Sharp and excerpted it completely out of context to create a false impression.
A man dressed in a Nazi shirt and claiming to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan showed up at a tea party event in Clayton, Missouri. Sharp confronted the man with his camera, told him that he didn’t represent tea party values and asked him to leave. You would never know this, however, if you saw Podesta’s use of Sharp’s footage — Think Progress isolated the man saying “I’m proud to be a racist” and dropped it into a video that purported to document racism in the tea party. The confrontation, repudiation, indictment and invitation to leave are all conspicuously absent. This is how Podesta operates.
This kind of demonization creates an environment that enables, if not encourages, political abuses. After all, why would anyone care if the IRS is targeting Nazis and admittedly proud racists? It’s rather difficult to feel sorry for bad people receiving their just desserts.
It seems more excusable, somehow, even if it’s blatantly illegal and poses a danger to all citizens, good and bad. When H.R. Haldeman wrote his biography, “The Ends of Power,” he took responsibility for the atmosphere that he created during Watergate — and while John Podesta isn’t currently working in the West Wing, the politics of personal destruction, defamation and scapegoatism that he helped create have apparently pervaded the halls of power. This is why John Podesta, and others like him, have a hand in Obama’s current political woes — they may not be complicit, but they are culpable.
Corruption is a slippery slope — once one engages in just a little bit, engaging in a little bit more doesn’t seem so bad. Once one gets a taste for it, and once one realizes that committing corrupt acts is easy, is repeatable, is without consequence, it begins to feed upon itself and multiply, spread and consume. Our media watchdogs, which were supposed to have kept our leaders honest, have been asleep at the keyboard — and they’ve also, by giving Obama and the John Podestas of the world a free pass, contributed to Obama’s excesses, excesses which now threaten to consume him. His chickens have indeed come home to roost — and they’ve even laid a few extra eggs while roosting.
Ultimately, it’s people like H.R. Haldeman and John Podesta who build the nests and turn the eggs — though Richard Nixon’s crimes pale in comparison to what has been recently alleged of the Obama administration. Congress was never able to establish any broad-based abuse of the IRS against Nixon’s “enemies list,” but even Nixon’s comparatively modest abuses merited an article of impeachment. Obama’s IRS has already admitted to misconduct. Who knows what other scandalous evidence may ultimately emerge? Nixon certainly never seized Woodward and Bernstein’s phone records; it’ll be interesting to see to what extent the AP tolerates the Obama Justice Department’s actions. Certainly nobody ever accused Richard Nixon of willfully denying protection to Americans in peril. President Obama will, of course, blame others — it was Hillary Clinton, it was Eric Holder, it was some mid-level paper pusher, it was George W. Bush. The buck stops everywhere but with Obama. With each passing day, with each new disturbing revelation, President Obama is making President Nixon look more like President Washington.
Andrew Breitbart wouldn’t be surprised by any of this. In our movie, which was filmed before the 2012 election cycle, Andrew declares war on the media and the institutional left by boldly stating, “You are not going to like this next election cycle, mainstream media. You’re either going to have to get with the program, or you’re going to be the object of the folly.” In light of Obama’s suite of emerging scandals, not the least of which involves the Justice Department allegedly spying on 100 reporters from the Associated Press, I would say that the folly, as it were, has only just begun to roost.
They really ought to have taken Andrew Breitbart’s advice when they had the chance.
Andrew Marcus is the director of Hating Breitbart, which opens in theaters and on DVD/VOD on Friday, May 17th.