President Barack Obama has descended so far into the thickets of political slime that he may never be able to extricate himself.
With massive midterm losses looming and his presidency potentially paralyzed as a result, the president made the startling claim that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was accepting foreign donations to launch a campaign against him, a charge that even The New York Times — a notorious Obama mouthpiece — described as “groundless.”
Having relied on the claim of a left-wing blog, the president echoed the charge at a Maryland political rally. “So groups that receive foreign money are spending huge sums to influence American elections, and they won’t tell you where the money for their ads come from,” he said.
Tom Donahue, president of the Chamber of Commerce, immediately denied the accusation, explaining that strict accounting procedures keep foreign and domestic contributions separate.
Remarkably, denunciation of the president’s claims spanned the political spectrum with some liberals suggesting the president “went too far” in the direction of stifling dissent. Even David Axelrod, the president’s senior adviser, conceded that the administration has no evidence to support the president’s claim.
Nonetheless, Axelrod and the president stuck to their guns by suggesting the Chamber of Commerce “may have” violated U.S. laws. Axelrod asked in a classic example of sophistry, “do you have any evidence it’s not [true]?”
Overlooked by most members of the press corps were the questionable contributions to the Obama campaign on foreign credit cards, a claim that had more than a semblance of hearsay.
It seems that the president is overreaching in an effort to find a political argument with traction. Allegations against the Chamber of Commerce fall into the category of a populist denunciation of big business, even though Democratic operatives assure job generating corporations they are on their side.
With Sen. Al Franken calling for a Federal Election Commission probe, a campaign is being launched despite the lack of evidence. The Democratic National Committee released an ad castigating the Chamber of Commerce as “shills for big business.”
Of course, the purpose of the Chamber of Commerce is to represent business interests. That is what it is organized to do.
The underlying issue, the one that has a chilling effect on campaigns, is the unleashing of government power to silence political opponents. By any standard this presidential claim is an abuse of power that should be condemned by every member of the media.
Obama insists through indirect assertions that “you don’t know. It could be the oil industry. It could be the insurance industry. It could even be foreign owned corporations. You don’t know because they don’t have to disclose.”
Indeed since you don’t know, it could be the tooth fairy.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Citizens United case allows organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce to advertise for and against candidates of their choice and to accept anonymous donations in order to do so.
President Obama indicated he does not support its decision, but like it or not, it is the law of the land.
That the questionable claims have become an issue may be an effort to shift concern from jobs and the precarious nature of the economy to campaign practices. But without evidence and with the arrogant display of political power this stratagem has backfired on the president and the Democratic Party.
Can the president dig his way out of this matter before November? Can he convince voters that he will not abuse the power of this office? On election day the answers will be evident.
Herbert London is president of the Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Publishers).
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