The White House’s spinning of the Benghazi attack, the IRS’ targeting of the Tea Party, and the Department of Justice’s spying on the Associated Press all disclose varying degrees of the abuse of power.
Responding to the disclosure that the Justice Department spied on AP, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) recalled another abuse of power era.
“It is the arrogance of power and paranoia. I think it’s shocking. It reminds me of the Nixon days. If they can do it to the AP, they can do [it] to any news service in the country,” said Wolf.
The Nixonian analogy may be a stretch. Congressional hearings and investigative journalism will determine if the analogy is a fit.
Another analogy of the abuse of power concerned King David.
David misused his royal authority to assault Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Then, David misused his power, albeit unsuccessfully, to manipulate Uriah into covering up his assault. When that scheme failed, David misused his power to have his military to arrange for Uriah to be killed in battle (2 Samuel 11:1-25).
When David learned of Uriah’s death, David spun the news with the modern-day equivalent of “It’s not really that bad. Things happen.”
Other biblical stories recount the abuse of power. Thinking that no one was watching, Moses, the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, killed an Egyptian and engaged in a cover up – burying the body (Exodus 2:10-15). King Saul abused his power by offering a burnt offering before war, an act he had no right to perform (1 Samuel 13:8-14).
The abuse of power is as old as the biblical story and as current as today’s news.
Today, the political abuse of power involves the misuse of a position of authority with an arrogant sense that one has the right to twist, to control, to intimidate or to press advantage over others for personal gain, partisan gain or both.
When challenged, the perpetrators of the political abuse of power often respond with denial, misdirection and cover up – and then the justification that wrongful actions are pursued for noble goals.
Allegations of the political abuse of power burn bright among members of one party against another party.
Allegations may disclose that partisan loyalty is more important than moral integrity.
Consider the news reports that the IRS held up the approval of the tax-exempt status of groups that had the words “Tea Party” or “patriot” in their applications, but had readily approved groups with words like “progressive” in their applications.
Some Obama loyalists have downplayed what the IRS did, not surprisingly given their disdain of the Tea Party. They see little wrong with politically flagging conservative organizations or targeting conservative faith organizations. The IRS was just doing its job, they say.
One wonders, however, what their reaction would have been had the same dynamic occurred during the Bush administration. One suspects that they would offer a full-throated denouncement of the abuse of power.
Here again is yet another example of the view that the other side is always wrong and my side is always pure. Whatever my side does is justifiable. What a morally flawed viewpoint.
Or consider the news reports that the IRS targeted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and Samaritan’s Purse, two organizations headed by Franklin Graham, after BGEA supported a North Carolina amendment to the state’s constitution banning gay marriage.
Graham said he thinks the IRS targeted his organizations as the IRS was targeting Tea Party organizations.
He wrote in a letter this week to President Obama, “I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the (Obama) administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us. This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.'”
The Christian Right has rushed to Graham’s side. The Christian Left has been mute about the IRS targeting these Graham organizations – and remarkably silent about the IRS’ abuse of power.
For more than a decade, EthicsDaily.com has challenged Graham’s truncated moral agenda, including a 2002 editorial titled “Franklin Graham Speaks Before He Thinks” and a 2011 piece titled “Does Graham Still Favor Trump for President After Profane Tirade?” A number of EthicsDaily.com news stories have covered Graham’s quackery.
Nonetheless, the IRS’ targeting of Graham is simply wrong. It’s an abuse of political power. Targeting the Tea Party while ignoring progressive organizations is equally wrong.
The resignation of an IRS official and the president’s condemnation of the IRS’ action have symbolic value. Yet they don’t address the culture that encouraged the IRS to engage in political partisanship.
Thankfully, some Democrats have condemned the IRS’ actions and those of the Justice Department.
Would that some Republicans and their affiliated faith leaders had challenged the Bush administration’s claims of “yellow cake uranium” and weapons of massive destruction leading to the Iraq war, as they now rightfully question the Obama administration’s spin about Benghazi.
One ought to be able to count on faith leaders to provide a moral critique of the wrongness of the abuse of power without regard to political leanings or alliances.
Faith leaders have every right to full participation in the public square. But that participation would be far more valuable if it were less grounded in partisan loyalty and more fixed to a moral critique that consistently challenged both parties.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Robert M. Parham (1953 – 2017) was the founder and executive director of Baptist Center for Ethics from 1991 to 2017. He served as executive editor of EthicsDaily.com, BCE’s website, from its launch in 2002 until 2017.