On a recent episode of PBS’s “NewsHour,” a media panel reflected on former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s (R) sex scandal and reflected on whether politics “attracts” people prone to abuses and misbehavior.
New York Times columnist David Brooks, a center-right pundit, highlighted a notable exception.
“I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him. He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.“And so there are people in Washington who do set a standard of integrity, who do seem to attract people of quality.”
PBS commentator Mark Shields responded that Brooks raised “a good point,” adding, “I agree with him on this administration in particular.”
I think this is an under-appreciated point. White House scandals over the years have become so common, they’re almost expected – given the size and scope of the executive branch, allegations of misconduct are bound to be part of an administration’s tenure. The question is the severity of the scandals, not whether they’ll exist.
But Brooks is right to give President Obama and his team credit for keeping its nose clean. When my old pals at the Washington Monthly put together a list of Obama’s top 50 accomplishments, it took note of the president’s ability to avoid scandal as among its more notable achievements: Obama has “served longer than any president in decades without a scandal.”
It’s even a point of pride among insiders. David Axelrod recently boasted, “I’m proud of the fact that basically you have had an administration in this place for six years in which there hasn’t been a major scandal. And I think that says a lot about the ethical strictures of this administration.”
I realize, of course, that for the right, these assessment seem outrageous, if not ridiculous. My inbox will no doubt soon fill up with emails from conservatives demanding to know how I can think Obama’s tenure has bene scandal free in light of Benghazi, IRS “targeting,” et al.
But in order for a story to be a proper, legitimate White House “scandal,” there actually has to be some hint of wrongdoing from someone in the White House. Made-up controversies that didn’t amount to anything shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Indeed, as we discussed a while back, it must be incredibly frustrating for the right that after six years, the near-constant search for a legitimate White House scandal has produced bupkis. Every few months, Republicans and some of the Beltway media are convinced they’ve uncovered “Obama’s Watergate,” but the controversies are always a mirage that disappear under scrutiny.
Of course, there’s still a year and a half to go, and maybe some actual controversy will still tarnish the White House and the president’s legacy. It seems unlikely, but I suppose Obama’s critics can hold out some hope that something will turn up.
But as things stand, Brooks’ assessment of “an amazingly scandal-free administration” rings true.