Monday, June 24, 2013

The NSA Scandal Was Good for Obama

While no one was watching, the snooping story muscled all those other controversies out of the way.

The story about extensive National Security Agency monitoring of electronic communications blew through Washington with hurricane force. And, like a hurricane, it fully consumed the attention of just about everybody who fell within its path. Oh, sure, there was a little gang huddling over here working on immigration issues and another one over there fretting about the Syrian rebels, but mostly people were coping with the storm.

Admittedly, attention spans in Washington, as anywhere else, are limited, and there’s only so much room in the in-box. But usually the capital’s politico-journalistic complex is able to walk and chew gum and do three or four other things at the same time. With the NSA story, not so much. There was too much there there. First came the questions about what the NSA was really up to. Next were the questions about who knew what and on whose authority the snooping was taking place. Then came the person of leaker Edward Snowden and broader questions about the motives of whistleblowers and the morality of leaks. Finally, there was the whole question of the legality and wisdom of the program.

In the storm’s initial surge, one could be forgiven for wondering how much devastation it would wreak on the Obama administration, following as it did on a spring dominated by talk of scandals: the administration’s shifting account of what happened in Benghazi; the IRS targeting conservative groups for special scrutiny; the Justice Department’s paging through journalists’ email in-boxes and phone records. But something strange happened as the tempest passed through: The other Obama scandals seem to have been swept out to sea by the storm, or at least have been rendered profoundly waterlogged. Their capacity to inflict political damage on the administration seems much diminished compared to a few weeks ago.

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