Reflecting on his two terms in office, President George W. Bush said in 2010, “You realize you’re not it. You’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
This is a sentiment President Barack Obama did not inherit from his predecessor. Over the past month we have witnessed several displays of arrogant power emanating from our White House, emphasizing fealty to a person over the integrity of an American institution. Some are more serious than others.
First, this week it was discovered that White House staff had edited the biographies of many past presidents on whitehouse.gov to include a bullet point or two inserting President Obama into each historical narrative.
For example, while President Calvin Coolidge had been the first president to make a public radio address, President Obama is on LinkedIn; and while Social Security was introduced by President Roosevelt, under President Obama it still exists. But in a far more egregious example, they incorrectly added to President Ronald Reagan’s biography:
“In a June 28, 1985 speech Reagan called for a fairer tax code, one where a multi-millionaire did not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Today, President Obama is calling for the same with the Buffett Rule.”
This is not only a complete fabrication of what President Reagan said (even The Washington Post‘s ‘fact checker’ gave this familiar line two Pinocchios) but it is also a glaring example of the President putting himself ahead of the sacred institution he is sworn to protect for the nation as well as his predecessors and successors.
Heritage Distinguished Fellow Ed Meese who served as President Reagan’s Attorney General said: “They should not use the biographies of past presidents as campaign vehicles. What they have done is to spoil the integrity of the historical narrative. At the very least, the Reagan biography should be restored to the accurate version provided by the White House Historical Association. I’m sure those associated with other past presidents would feel the same.”
This is not the first time the Obama White House has engaged in this behavior. In March 2009, they were caught editing President Bush’s biography to soften his listed accomplishments. They quickly reversed course. In the Bush Administration, biographies were directly supplied by the White House Historical Association without addendums or qualifiers.
Former White House Internet Director David Almacy explained to The Heritage Foundation that under Bush, this editing practice would have been unthinkable, saying: “It was our intent to preserve the history of the White House as an institution as well as those who served as president from a non-partisan historical perspective.” Almacy added: “It was ingrained in Bush Administration staffers from day one that our time in service to our nation was a privilege and that we must separate political promotion from the institution as a whole.”
Affirming that culture, President Bush told a group of departing staffers in 2009: “Laura and I thank you from the bottom of our hearts for serving with us. I’ve had two great chiefs of staff, Andy and Josh. Their task was to assemble, and I would say this objectively, the finest group of people to serve our country, all of whom are here not to serve me, not to serve Republicans, but to serve the United States of America.”
This bipartisan approach evades the current White House. On April 20, President Obama’s campaign team released a Nixonian enemies list of Republican donors on their “Truth Team” website. This wasn’t about transparency, but intimidation. After each donor name, the Obama team highlighted why they felt the person was “less than reputable.” Essentially the person had either succeeded in a business field that was counter to the President’s worldview (i.e. oil production) or they made business decisions like outsourcing.
Prominent donors are often thrust into the spotlight in political campaigns, but this example was extraordinary and unprecedented. The writing was on the wall: If you give to an opposing cause, we will unleash a grassroots effort to destroy your personal reputation. This message delivered on behalf of the most powerful man in the nation has real implications. If the IRS were to audit one of these individuals, how could they not wonder if their political contribution was the root cause?
Following up on the story, the Wall Street Journal‘s Kimberly Strassel found that a week after this list was released, a political opposition researcher was found to be digging through divorce records of one of the men named. The target, Frank VanderSloot, told Strassel: “When I first learned that President Obama’s campaign had singled me out on his ‘enemies list,’ I knew it was like taping a target on my back…[but] the public beatings and false accusations that followed are no deterrent. These tactics will not work in America.”
Between the biographical trickery and their enemies list, President Obama’s team has engaged in tactics that put their boss above his predecessors and dangerously above his opponents. This is indeed a culture that emanates from the top.
Just last week President Obama told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an interview: “When I think about — those soldiers or airmen or marines or — sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf…” My behalf.
Then there was also the consistent use of the pronoun “I” to describe the raid to kill Osama bin Laden. And the time, President Obama told 60 Minutes that he was our fourth greatest president ever, saying: “I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history.”
Finally, President Obama insinuated yesterday that if you don’t support his policies, it’s not due to philosophical differences, but because of his name. Answering a question on The View about tight polls, he said: “When your name is Barack Obama, it’s always going to be tight. Barack Hussein Obama.”
Any person selected to the highest office in the land is bound to indulge a small degree of narcissism. But when it permeates the entire attitude and culture of the executive branch, it begins to become a problem. No president is larger than the presidency.