Republicans must be feeling that Christmas has come early. They are thrilled to think they finally have something on Obama. Under Bush, one scandal after another, one broken law after another. As long as it’s a Republican president trashing the Constitution, no problem. But when Obama was elected, Republicans made it clear they wanted him to be a one-term president, no matter what he actually did; they have been hunting for over four years to find something that will stick. Now they think they have it.
The typical Republican response to the Obama troubles is typified by Michael Reagan’s comment in his column: “Now ... close your eyes ... and then imagine the president is George W. Bush or Ronald Reagan.” The implication is, once again, that Obama has multiple scandals and Reagan was squeaky clean. In reality, the Reagan administration set the record for scandals under an American president. Did those scandals hurt Reagan’s standing among Republicans? No. Nearly all of the Republican presidential candidates in 2012 named Reagan as the man they most admired. What kind of administration did this most-admired man oversee?
During Reagan’s presidency, over 138 administration officials were investigated, indicted, and/or convicted of crimes, the most for any U.S. president up to that time. The most infamous scandal was Iran-Contra, something modern Republicans either excuse or ignore. American citizens were being held hostage by Iran. To gain the release of these hostages, Reagan sold arms to Iran, which was officially declared a terrorist country, thereby selling weapons to terrorists.
Reagan then used the money from these sales to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. The Contras were a right-wing group fighting the democratically elected Sandinista government. Reagan wanted the Sandinistas overthrown. According to a Human Rights Report, the Contras killed health care workers; burned civilian homes and property; and kidnapped, tortured, raped, mutilated and murdered civilians, including children. Reagan loved these guys.
Because of these atrocities, Congress passed three Boland Amendments. The first went into effect in 1982, signed by Reagan. It outlawed any American assistance to the Contras for the purpose of overthrowing the Sandinistas. In spite of this specific law against giving money to the Contras, Reagan continued to do so. At least seven administration officials were convicted of crimes relating to Iran-Contra, and then pardoned by GHW Bush. Caspar Weinberger, Reagan’s secretary of defense, was pardoned before his trial could take place.
There was also the lobbying scandal, for which both Reagan’s chief of staff Michael Deaver and his press secretary, Lyn Nofziger, were convicted of crimes. There was the HUD grant rigging scandal which favored Republican contributors, and the Inslaw Affair, which alleged that Reagan’s DOJ was involved in software piracy. Reagan’s attorney general Edwin Meese refused to investigate this alleged crime.
These are just a fraction of the criminal activities and contempt for the American people exhibited during the Reagan administration.
Under Obama, there is no evidence that any laws were broken in the Benghazi situation, the IRS actions or the AP phone records subpoenas. In fact, the IRS actions took place under an IRS commissioner appointed by GW Bush. There is no evidence that Obama knew these things were going on. In contrast, Reagan had to have known what was going on in his administration, since it would have taken presidential authority to do many of these things, such as selling weapons to Iran. Neither Reagan nor Bush seemed to care abut legal niceties. They apparently believed in Nixon’s philosophy: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal,” which seems to be a Republican presidential governing philosophy.
If someone has done something wrong, that does not give others the right to do something wrong. That is not what this is about. Reagan and then Bush promoted this culture of thumbing their noses at the law, and Republicans supported them. Now that they think they have something against Obama, they have suddenly found a conscience. Oversight is vital; it should always be in place. It is the selective outrage from Republicans that is so sickening.
If Congress had spent one-quarter of the time checking into the claims about Iraq that they are now spending on Benghazi, we would never have invaded Iraq in the first place. If Republicans have suddenly decided that it is important to make sure all administrations follow the law, great. I just hope this new-found outrage against illegal and unethical practices continues if we ever get a Republican president again. But sadly, I have my doubts.
Jeanette Strong’s column appears every other Wednesday.