The narrative at Fox News is that the Fast & Furious incident is Obama’s Watergate (of course, Obama has had at least three other Watergate events by Fox’s count). One problem with the way Fox describes this event is that classifying it as being on par with Watergate is hyperbole, a standard tactic at Fox (and MSNBC). In addition to the concern about the fact that such rhetoric is misleading, there is also the practical concern: what will Fox use as a point of comparison if Obama does something really bad? However, my main concern here is not to discuss Fox, but to consider whether or not the Fast and Furious scandal has been accurately presented.
In many ways, this sort of consideration is a foolish waste of time. After all, the narrative of this scandal has largely been written and the “facts” are mostly cemented in the public mind. Anything that deviates from the narrative will tend to be rejected by those who embrace the narrative and, in fact, will merely encourage them to cling more strongly to the narrative. Those who are willing to change their views in the face of new information will tend to be cast as merely following their ideology by those who are following their own ideology. As such, it is tempting to despair of ever discussing anything that might deviate from the narrative.
However, part of being a philosopher is considering that the accepted narrative might not be accurate and having a willingness to take into account new information. In the case of Fast and Furious, Fortune conducted an extensive investigation that appears to reveal facts contrary to the current political narrative. I must, of course, admit that I have largely accepted the erroneous narrative-primarily because this additional information was only recently made available.
As per the original narrative, guns purchased under ATF surveillance ended up in the possession of criminals. However, Fortune’s investigation provides evidence that the ATF did not purposely allow guns to be trafficked illegally. In fact, it is claimed that the ATF attempted to seize weapons but it was, ironically, handicapped in its efforts by prosecutors and the existing laws covering firearms. Fortune’s investigation also reveals that the claims against the ATF include distortions, errors, partial truths and lies.
The Fortune investigation also covers the process of how right-wing bloggers and CBS escalated the story and then how Representative Issa and others used it to score political points. Interestingly, it is claimed that Obama basically yielded on this matter do as to avoid getting into a rhetorical battle about gun control (which is denied by the administration).
If these claims are true, then the accepted narrative being spun out in the media is flawed and does an injustice to the ATF and those involved. Given the general credibility of Fortune, it is worth taking the investigation seriously and this should impact the assessment of the situation. It should also serve as yet another lesson of the importance of being critical of the facts and being willing to consider new information.
If the Fortune investigation is accurate, then this makes Obama’s choice to use executive privilege even more interesting. After all, if the claims made about the ATF are accurate, then the ATF was trying to do as well as it could within the context of the existing laws and practices. That is, the ATF has been wronged by the erroneous judgments against it-including those I myself made. As such, the administration could have responded by asserting the facts and thus countered the scandal without resorting to executive privilege. After all, there would be nothing to hide.
However, the Fortune investigation does suggest why the Obama administration would have something to hide: perhaps there were discussions about how to handle this matter without getting caught up in the said rhetorical battle over gun control. After all, while Obama has only expanded gun rights, some folks have very strong beliefs that Obama is just biding his time and is waiting to attack gun rights (despite a total lack of evidence for these beliefs). As such, Obama probably wants to avoid getting tangled up in this rhetoric. If so, it is ironic that the use of executive privilege is taken as evidence that Obama is trying to hide something, perhaps some sort of conspiracy to infringe on gun rights.
Of course, it is not impossible that the administration did discuss how the existing gun laws would need to be changed to address the easy flow of arms from the US to Mexico. Such talk would, of course, be presented as attempts to infringe on gun rights. This also shows the challenge Obama faces in regards to this flow of guns. One the one horn, attempts to seriously address the problem will be seen as attempts to infringe on gun right and no doubt strongly opposed by the right. On the other horn, using weaker methods will have little or no impact and will result in condemnation from the right for failing to address the problem. In short, Obama (and the next President) would seem to be in a no win situation: anything he does to seriously address the problem would get him bashed as anti-gun and feed the conspiracy theories. Doing nothing serious about the problem gets him bashed as being weak on this matter. Bush also faced the problem of this easy flow of guns and was not able to solve it. Obviously, whoever gets elected in 2012 will still face this problem and the challenge of solving the problem without being bashed as anti-gun.