‘President Passerby’: Does the Buck Stop with Obama?
Policy + Politics

‘President Passerby’: Does the Buck Stop with Obama?

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

President Obama's troubles started with Benghazi, got worse with the IRS scandal, and reached critical mass when the Department of Justice got caught snooping through The Associated Press' phone records.

Through it all, Obama has maintained enough plausible deniability for the brunt of the blame to fall on his subordinates: Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, IRS official Lois Lerner, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. The White House claims that Obama wasn't the one making the decisions that resulted in these scandals. Even if that was so, is it acceptable for the president to be so in the dark about what officials in his own administration are doing?

"President Passerby needs urgently to become a participant in his presidency," writes Dana Milbank in The Washington Post, adding:

Nixon was a control freak. Obama seems to be the opposite: He wants no control over the actions of his administration. As the president distances himself from the actions of "independent" figures within his administration, he's creating a power vacuum in which lower officials behave as though anything goes. Certainly, a president can't know what everybody in his administration is up to — but he can take responsibility, he can fire people and he can call a stop to foolish actions such as wholesale snooping into reporters' phone calls. [Washington Post]

Politico's Josh Gerstein paints a picture of a DOJ intentionally left to its own devices by the president: "This White House, out of concern to distance itself from what was seen as excess politicization of DOJ by the Bush administration, had not engaged DOJ at all on leak cases," David Pozen, a law professor at Columbia University, tells Gerstein. Ultimately, Gerstein says, that hands-off approach "may have encouraged the natural inclination of prosecutors to see leak cases through — with little to check that impulse."

The Daily Caller's Matt Lewis notes that it's easier to excuse the actions of a "bumbling politician" who doesn't know what is going on than a corrupt or Machiavellian one — something that also helped Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush. That, however, doesn't change the fact that Obama should accept responsibility for what has happened, writes Lewis:

Being out of the loop doesn't exonerate him in my mind (though it might in the public's.) The buck is supposed to stop at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue — and it makes little difference to me whether you order — or inspire (and tolerate) — a culture of corruption where "Chicago-style" politics are carried out with a wink and a nod. [Daily Caller]

Whether or not Obama should have been more involved in the actions of the State Department, IRS, and DOJ, he could have, at the very least, condemned their actions more forcefully, the president's former press secretary Robert Gibbs told MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell.

"The tenor of this briefing would be different if the president had spoken about this on Saturday or Sunday and not on Monday," Gibbs said of Obama's reaction to the IRS scandal, noting that he would have used "far more vivid language" to express his anger. "It sounds exceedingly passive to me."

This article by Keith Wagstaff originally appeared at TheWeek.com. Read more from TheWeek.com:

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