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Obama punishes the innocent to score political points

The president has effectively admitted to doing what he can to make the government shutdown as damaging as possible

By Jonah Goldberg

6:00 AM EDT, October 14, 2013

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Recently I wrote a column accusing the president of having a vindictive streak -- of deliberately trying to make the lives of average Americans worse just so he could score ideological and political points.

We already knew from how he handled the budget sequester that President Barack Obama liked this approach. He ordered Cabinet secretaries not to do their jobs -- i.e., to manage as best they could under spending restraints -- but instead to find ways to make the cuts needlessly painful for innocents caught in the Beltway crossfire.

They dusted off the same playbook for the shutdown. As one park ranger told the Washington Times, "We've been told to make life as difficult for people as we can."

Admittedly, the case was circumstantial. There was no smoking gun. What was really needed was a confession.

Mr. Obama delivered. On Oct. 8, Mr. Obama was asked by Mark Knoller of CBS if he was "tempted" to sign the numerous funding bills passed by the GOP-controlled House that would greatly alleviate the pain of the shutdown. Republicans have voted to reopen parks, fund cancer trials for children at the NIH, and to keep FEMA and the FDA going through this partial shutdown. But Mr. Obama has threatened to veto any such efforts, effectively keeping the Senate from considering the legislation.

"Of course I'm tempted" to sign those bills, Mr. Obama explained. "But here's the problem. What you've seen are bills that come up wherever Republicans are feeling political pressure, they put a bill forward. And if there's no political heat, if there's no television story on it, then nothing happens."

Mr. Obama's answer dragged on, as all of Mr. Obama's answers do. But the point was made. For the first time in American history, a president confessed to deliberately hurting his country to score points against his enemies.

Which brings us to the national disgrace last week in which the Department of Defense denied death benefits to the families of fallen service members.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney insists, with operatic righteousness, that President Obama never intended for the 26 families of the fallen to be denied this aid or to be hindered from retrieving their beloveds' remains from Dover Air Force Base.

But Mr. Carney is surely lying -- and the evidence isn't simply that his lips are moving.

Mr. Carney defends the administration by noting that the Pentagon warned Congress in late September that the shutdown would prevent the payments from going out.

But Congress passed the Pay Our Military Act to fund the military through the shutdown. Administration officials first stonewalled Congress' efforts for clarity on the issue, then the lawyers eventually determined that because the act didn't specifically include the word "benefits," they couldn't err on the side of helping grieving families.

In other words, when asked to make a judgment call, and knowing that Congress wanted the benefits paid, this administration still claimed its hands were tied by the fine print. Given how often the White House routinely ignores the plain meaning of the law -- and the will of Congress -- when it suits its political agenda, logic dictates that it denied the benefits on purpose.

Moreover, by its own account, the White House says it knew for weeks this would happen. During all the back-and-forth, the White House did nothing to remedy the situation. It only sprang into outraged action when suddenly faced with a PR nightmare.

"The president was very disturbed to learn of this problem," Mr. Carney told the press Wednesday. And once he did learn of it, Mr. Carney insisted, he ordered the Defense Department and the Office of Management and Budget to fix the problem "today."

When Fox News White House correspondent Ed Henry asked Mr. Carney when the president found out, Mr. Carney indignantly refused to answer. It's not hard to guess why: because the president either knew all along, or his underlings believed they were following his plan.

Let me say it again. The president confessed. It's his express policy to punish innocent bystanders in order to score partisan points. That order has gone forth like a fatwa to the bureaucracy. And it is only when that policy blows up in his face that Mr. Obama becomes "very disturbed."

When terrible things happened on George W. Bush's watch -- Katrina, Abu Ghraib, etc. -- the immediate liberal response was to insist that Mr. Bush had in fact ordered or wanted the terrible things to happen.

Now we have a president openly admitting it -- and no one seems to care.

Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. You can write to him in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at goldbergcolumn@gmail.com, or via Twitter @JonahNRO.