Susan Rice and the incompetence defense
President Obama dished out a lot of tough talk about Benghazi during his first press conference in eight months. (I’m old enough to remember when the media would have disapproved of a President who so obviously hid from serious questions during his re-election campaign.) Obama was particularly vigorous in his defense of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, who was dispatched to the Sunday talk shows to spread the Administration’s false narrative of “spontaneous video protests” after the consulate attack.
Asked about Republican promises to oppose Rice if Obama nominates her to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the President erupted:
Well first of all I’m not going to comment on various nominations that I’ll put forward to fill out my cabinet for the second term. Those are things that are still being discussed. But let me say specifically about Susan Rice, she has done exemplary work. She has represented the United States and our interests in the United Nations with skill, and professionalism, and toughness, and grace. As I’ve said before, she made an appearance at the request of the White House in which she gave her best understanding of the intelligence that had been provided to her.
If Senator McCain and Senator Graham, and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion with them. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador who had nothing to do with Benghazi? And was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received? And to besmirch her reputation is outrageous. And, you know, we’re after an election now.
There are several things going on here. First and foremost is the extension of Obama’s “War on Women” agitprop, which worked well enough to get him re-elected. Critics who marvel at Obama’s portrayal of this powerful and accomplished woman as a helpless damsel in distress are missing the point of the War on Women, which is a relaunch of victim-based feminism, after its old leaders threw away their credibility to keep Bill Clinton in office.
The new WOW feminism is much heavier on the victim language, because Obama wants his single-woman demographic to view themselves as helpless prey, with only the State and its designated Democrat champions to protect them. Female Obama voters are more likely to see themselves as the faceless dependent from Obama’s infamous “Life of Julia” slideshow if they see “Julia” lurking within even the most powerful women. For that reason, every Republican who criticizes any female Democrat officeholder had better be prepared to receive vigorous white-glove “how dare you!” slaps from “gallant” Democrats, who not only want to keep their single-female demographic nervous, but would also love to create an environment in which female Democrat officials and elected representatives are essentially immune to serious criticism. (Meanwhile, it will remain acceptable for liberal Democrats in good standing to refer to Republican women in the most vile and misogynistic terms, as with “comedian” Bill Maher’s treatment of Sarah Palin.)
Beyond the War on Women histrionics, Obama is once again deploying the unique rhetorical weapon of his Administration: the “incompetence defense.” He and his top people have pioneered the tactic of claiming rank, total incompetence as a defense against criticism. They offer arguments that previous generations would only have expected to see in letters of resignation or exit interviews.
Read that quote from the President again: he’s angrily insisting that Republicans need to lay off Susan Rice because she didn’t know anything about Benghazi… in the same breath that he says they should leave her alone because the White House dispatched her to carry its water on the Sunday shows! He’s openly admitting, in the space of just three sentences, that he sent a woman who did not know what she was talking about to address the nation, through media interviews, on a catastrophic failure of his foreign and security policy, which resulted in four dead Americans, plus substantial damage to our intelligence efforts in the Middle East. (Remember, some important documents were looted from that consulate, reporters were still discovering fairly sensitive material among the rubble for weeks after the attacks, and we have increasingly credible reports that the CIA was using the place as a temporary holding facility for captured terror operatives.)
And then you’ve got Obama’s risible tough talk about inviting Republican senators to “go after him” if they want to pick on somebody, because he’d be happy to have a discussion with them. Barack Obama could have cleared up the entire Benghazi mystery in ten minutes flat, by speaking candidly about what he knew, when he knew it, and what orders he gave before and during the consulate attack. Of course, such honesty probably would have cost him the election. If today’s press conference could be beamed back into the middle of the second presidential debate with time-travel technology, not even Candy Crowley could have saved Obama’s hide.
But instead, we get more of the Incompetence Defense: the President doesn’t really know what his Administration is up to, he didn’t know anything about his CIA Director’s security-compromising extramarital affair, he didn’t know the Ambassador and his staff were pleading for more protection in the weeks leading up to the Benghazi attack, he didn’t realize terrorists might decide to get frisky on the anniversary of 9/11, he skipped a lot of security briefings because he was busy campaigning and fundraising, the State Department isn’t really part of the Administration, it will take months or years of investigation to find out who gave the “stand-down” orders that resulted in the Ambassador’s death, nobody really knows what Barack Obama was doing while the attack was in progress… and all of this is offered as a defense of the President’s conduct, not bullet points on his letter of resignation. He’s saying the Administration he built – and claimed unprecedented levels of executive power for – is such a hopeless mess that he can’t be held accountable for anything it does. Heck, he’s as surprised as you are when he reads about their latest wacky misadventures in the morning papers!
Note the casual little coda Obama added to the latest iteration of the Incompetence Defense: “We’re after an election now.” He survived contact with the electorate, so nothing he did prior to this week really matters any more. Likewise, his Attorney General, Eric Holder, used the Incompetence Defense to survive the Fast and Furious scandal, and “we’re after an election now,” so he probably isn’t going anywhere either.
Do you remember how Obama only crawled out from under his desk and muttered something about taking “responsibility” for Benghazi because Hillary Clinton shamed him into it, on the eve of the presidential debate where “moderator” Candy Crowley jumped in to save him? He’s betting you don’t… but even if you do, it doesn’t really matter what you think any more. You only had one chance to fire Barack Obama, and you didn’t take it. He can very easily afford to act like a tough guy now, because the Incompetence Defense is all about running out the clock, just like Obama’s Benghazi lies were all about managing the first few crucial news cycles after the attack, and everything you’re seeing now is delayed fallout… which became a lot less toxic when its political half-life was exceeded. The 2012 election seems to have vindicated Obama’s approach, so you’re going to see a lot more of it.