Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

May 17, 2013

RONNIE ELLIS: Fallout from scandals remains to be seen

FRANKFORT — Scandals like those roiling Washington often look more or less nefarious as time and facts unfold. After all, what at first looked like a third-rate burglary turned into Watergate.

I doubt the scandals around Benghazi, the IRS and subpoenas of Associated Press phone records reach Watergate status — but we must await more information and time to know.

But regardless of the eventual political impact, the controversies expose policies we ought to rethink or evaluate for effectiveness and risk.

Take Benghazi: it’s always sticky to insert ourselves into cultures so different from our own. I’m not saying we shouldn’t. I’m saying we should be cautious about doing it and careful when we do. As the world’s only superpower, we can’t ignore the world’s problems but we ought to exercise enough realism and humility to know we can’t solve every one of them by ourselves.

Secondly, if those criticizing the administration’s handling of security in Libya and its response to the attacks are genuinely concerned, they’ll vote to spend more on embassy security. It also turns out some Congressional critics of the changes to “talking points” actually changed quotes in the emails they’d been provided by the administration and then leaked the altered quotes to reporters.

As a reporter, the AP subpoenas worry me. I understand our values sometimes conflict and those in charge of the nation’s security must balance the value of the freedom of the press and the public’s right to know with protecting lives. I have a professional bias, but I’ve been uncomfortable for years — preceding but including the current administration — with domestic surveillance after 9/11.

Recall Benjamin Franklin’s observation of more than 200 years ago: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

On this issue there is also hypocrisy on both sides. Many who supported the election of Barack Obama did so because they reviled what they saw as the excesses of the Bush-Cheney administration. Now some of them defend the AP subpoenas. Many of the Republicans so outraged now are the very people who a year ago demanded an investigation into the leaks the subpoenas were trying to track down.

I tend to think the Obama supporters were right in 2008 and the Republicans now. But both have altered their positions.

Of the three scandals now consuming Washington, the one most likely to produce public anger and fear is the alleged targeting of applications from 501 (c) (4) tax-exempt organizations by IRS staff in Cincinnati. The public is right to fear IRS prying and power. Republican critics are right to demand answers — and I hope facts.

But when the investigations are complete, when the two parties have offered their partisan judgments, we ought to review the whole question of these euphemistically labeled “social welfare” organizations.

If you’re interested in social welfare, donate to your church, to the Salvation Army or to United Way. If instead you’re donating to American Crossroads or Emerge America (a Democratic leaning organization which was the only one of these groups whose application was denied), I suspect you’re really more interested in politics but especially more interested in hiding the donations.

Whether it’s Karl Rove or George Soros, the idea either is spending money to promote the social welfare rather than a political agenda is baloney and we all know it. On top of that, taxpayers are subsidizing those partisan efforts.

We shouldn’t. As Republicans used to argue, we probably can’t effectively limit political contributions but we ought to demand such groups fully disclose their source.

RONNIE ELLIS writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.

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