In 1967 Joey Bishop, the celebrated comedian and honorary member of Sinatra’s Rat Pack, starred in a film entitled “A Guide for the Married Man.” Although this is hardly a distinguished movie, one scene was worth the price of admission.
The Bishop character is caught by his wife in flagrante with a young woman in a motel room. Rather than apologize or seized by embarrassment, try to explain the situation, Bishop proceeds to get dressed and has his paramour do the same. He straightens out the bed sheets and has the young lady leave the room. Bishop looks at his wife wistfully, and asks “what’s the problem?” No one is here, but you and me. Nothing happened.”
Here is a classic example of denial – denial of the obvious, denial of the evidence, denial of credulity. In this Hollywood script Bishop pulls it off.
Today we are observing a presidency that has taken a page from this film. The president is seemingly unaware of what is going on around him. He is either insulated from events or he is misled or the agencies being questioned are “independent,” beyond his control.
Someone at the highest level of government had to issue an order to “stand down” when a request was made by those under attack at the Benghazi embassy. Someone with authority had to issue a highly charged request that conservative organizations should be targeted by the IRS. And it is now clear, that the sequestering of James Rosen’s journalistic record was authorized by Attorney General Holder who reports directly to the president.
Obviously the White House is trapped in a web of its own reckoning. Yet astonishingly, the president responds as if these events did not involve him. He had the temerity to condemn the violation of press freedom in the Rosen case and claimed to be outraged at the unconstitutional behavior of the Internal Revenue Service.
As I see it, this response is classic Joey Bishop. The denial is accompanied by high dungeon rhetoric. “Let’s get to the bottom of these outrages” seems to be the White House response. But no one looks in the mirror. If the president were to do so, he would find like Pogo “I have found the enemy and he is us.”
The presidents denial is egregious; yet even more egregious is the silence of the press when press freedom itself is in jeopardy. Where is the indignation? What happened to the finger pointing?
It seems as if the wheels on this presidential wagon are falling off. One wonders what incident is next and what will be the nature of the denial. Whatever happened to “Fast and Furious,” the gun running debacle that led directly to the death of a narcotics agent?
President Obama does indeed lead a privileged political life, but how many times can he get away with denial as an explanation? Bishop got to do it once; the president has employed this ploy several times.
Perhaps there isn’t a limit, perhaps this presidency is sui generis. If that is true the republic is facing a perilous moment, a moment in which presidential authority can bypass the laws of the land.
This is not simply a Brave New World; it is an America where law itself is unhinged from duty. Presumably the president can claim innocence for any act including those over which he has jurisdiction.
Sadly this isn’t the script for a B movie; it is the actual performance of a presidency that has lost its way. The president may ask where is Joey Bishop when I need him: the answer is in the White House mirror. Denial is more than a rationalization for policy blunders, it is the policy itself in this Obama presidency.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America).
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