This was bound to happen.
Waaay back in 2009, when the new President improvidently and recklessly commented on a local dispute between a Harvard professor and a Cambridge policeman, I pointed out that Obama needed to learnthe ethical limits on his power and influence. Teddy Roosevelt’s “bully pulpit” is not license for the highest office-holder in the land to try to mold public opinion on every conceivable matter, local or national, and to influence decisions solely within the authority of others. For the President to state his personal verdict on anything he wakes up concerned about risks putting a weighty thumb on the scales of justice. It is an abuse of power—a President behaving like an emperor.
This is not a difficult concept; indeed, with occasional lapses, every other President has grasped it instinctively. Not Barack Obama. Brilliant Barack Obama. “Constitutional scholar” Barack Obama. For while the Gates episode may have been a rookie mistake, he has engaged in exactly the same unethical, arrogant conduct repeatedly, here, and here, and here and here, and here, and especially here—and I’m sure I may have missed a few.
Each time I pointed out this inexcusable habit, I was barraged by glossy-eyed readers who made excuses for Obama and rationalized his grandstanding remarks, accusing me of being biased and hypercritical. But with each new instance, it should have been progressively clearer that I correctly diagnosed this malady in 2009. Now, after Obama has done it yet again, commenting inappropriately about the military sexual harassment scandal, this proclivity has finally had tangible legal consequences. You can’t say I didn’t warn him.
“Two defendants in military sexual assault cases cannot be punitively discharged, if found guilty, because of “unlawful command influence” derived from comments made by President Barack Obama, a judge ruled in a Hawaii military court this week. Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled during pretrial hearings in two sexual assault cases — U.S. vs. Johnson and U.S. vs. Fuentes — that comments made by Obama as commander in chief would unduly influence any potential sentencing…Two defendants in military sexual assault cases cannot be punitively discharged, if found guilty, because of “unlawful command influence” derived from comments made by President Barack Obama, a judge ruled in a Hawaii military court this week.
“Navy Judge Cmdr. Marcus Fulton ruled during pretrial hearings in two sexual assault cases — U.S. vs. Johnson and U.S. vs. Fuentes — that comments made by Obama as commander in chief would unduly influence any potential sentencing…On Wednesday and Thursday, Fulton approved the pretrial defense motions, which used as evidence comments that Obama made about sexual assault at a May 7 news conference.
“The bottom line is: I have no tolerance for this,” Obama said, according to an NBC News story submitted as evidence by defense attorneys in the sexual assault cases. ‘I expect consequences,” Obama added. “So I don’t just want more speeches or awareness programs or training, but ultimately folks look the other way. If we find out somebody’s engaging in this, they’ve got to be held accountable — prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period.”
The judge’s pretrial ruling means that if either defendant is found guilty, whether by a jury or a military judge, they cannot receive a bad conduct discharge or a dishonorable discharge. Sailors found guilty under the Uniform Code of Military Justice’s Article 120, which covers several sexual crimes including assault and rape, generally receive punitive discharges.
“A member of the public would not hear the President’s statement to be a simple admonition to hold members accountable,” Fulton stated. “A member of the public would draw the connection between the ‘dishonorable discharge’ required by the President and a punitive discharge approved by the convening authority.”
Do you get it now, Mr. President? I doubt it. A more arrogant amateur at leadership ethics I have never seen. Now, as George Zimmerman defends himself against excessive second degree murder charges that never should have been brought, we can reflect on how the President’s pronouncements on that case—the last “here” above—might warp the results and interfere with justice. And we can wait for the next time this President decides to tell the public who is guilty and who isn’t.
I know it won’t do any good, but permit me the satisfaction of restating one my several expositions of my position on this, which were and are, as this decision shows, correct . This randomly chosen example—there are others, before and after—was written after the President, in the process of “not commenting” on the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy, did it again:
“The President of the United States is the leader of all of us, and has massive power (no matter what his Gallup Poll approval ratings may be) to not only persuade, but to change core attitudes among Americans who have deep respect for his high office and the men who have held it. It is a misuse, in fact, an abuse, of this massive power for the President to use it to register personal or political opinions about local, legal, cultural, or personal disputes and controversies. It is absolutely a proper use of his power, and his duty, to make clear statements regarding rights, responsibilities, national priorities and values. But he is not our national referee, advice columnist or arbiter of good taste, nor is he Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh or Maureen Dowd, and he diminishes his own stature every time he adopts these roles.
“President Obama has had a shockingly flat learning curve regarding this limit of legitimate presidential authority. He decided to take sides in the Prof. Gates “racial profiling” debacle, criticizing the Cambridge police. He suggested that free agent basketball star LeBron James might want to sign with his home town Chicago Bulls. He pronounced Massey Energy guilty while an investigation into its role in a mine disaster was still ongoing. What’s next? Declaring who should be the next American Idol judge? …Announcing that it’s OK to wear flip-flops in church?
“Americans are fully capable of arguing these and thousands of other issues without the President of the United States telling them the “right” opinion, even if he does so “without commenting.”
That was written in 2010.
Facts: Stars and Stripes