It's pretty rote to blame President Obama for pretty much everything these days, including matters way outside of his control, like the spread of Ebola. But Obama-blaming may have just hit its logical extreme. Former Washington Post security journalist and totally reasonable Republican pundit Ronald Kessler penned a column in Politicothis week arguing that if President Obama is assassinated, it will be his own damn fault.
Blaming "a management culture that requires covering up possible threats and deficiencies," Kessler (former correspondent for far-right site Newsmax and author of "weirdly inaccurate" book In the First Family Detail) seems to imply that the president's management style is directly responsible for the poor state of White House security, which resulted in a major breach of security in September.
"Terrorist groups like ISIL would like nothing better than to assassinate Obama," he writes. Security is so poor, "Five terrorists could come into the White House with grenades and wipe him out... Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. Sadly, given Obama’s colossal lack of management judgment, that calamity may be the only catalyst that will reform the Secret Service."
In other words, if five guys screaming about Allah throw a couple of grenades into the Oval Office, the son of a bitch kind of deserves it.
Perhaps realizing just what they had published, Politico quickly changed the end of the column to say, "Agents tell me it’s a miracle an assassination has not already occurred. In typical Washington fashion, nothing gets reformed until a disaster happens." They added the following correction as well:
Editor’s note: Some readers have misinterpreted the original last line of Kessler’s article as somehow suggesting that the president should be held responsible in the event of his own assassination. That couldn't be further from the truth, and we’re sorry if anyone interpreted Kessler’s meaning in any other way.
Yeah, okay. The only problem? Kessler himself made it incredibly clear this week that that was exactly what he intended to say. Below is a video of his Sept. 29 appearance on CNN discussing White House security, with a transcript of the most relevant parts below:
Michaela Pereira (Host): In your book, you detail so many events of this incident. I think many of us are wondering how on earth it could have taken the Secret Service four days to realize that seven shots hit and some entered the White House. [Referring to Oscar Ramiro Ortega-Hernandez, who fired shots at the building in 2011.]
Kessler: And the Washington Post claimed it as a scoop, but as you say it was in my book and it goes back to areally rotten management culture that is based on arrogance.
Kessler: Those who don't do that who point out problems are literally punished. And that is - goes back to really the safety of the president who keeps insisting there is no problem in the Secret Service. Michelle Obama in the Washington Post was angry at the Secret Service over the fact that they did not detect gunshots.
Host: Right. Right.
Kessler:Yet the president does nothing. That in a second. We understand the first lady and the president understandably were quite livid about this situation. I want to talk about this. you talk about it being an issue of culture. I want to also understand if this is a question, too, of our men and women in the Secret Service who are charged with protecting the president of the United States and the property's family, are they given enough tools and resources to adequately do their job.
Kessler:The secret service is absolutely crumbling as a part of this culture.
Host: Are you at all convinced that the president and the first lady and his mother-in-law and their children, that they're safe inside the White House?
Kessler:They are not safe. Absolutely not. Agents I talked to say it's a miracle that there has not been an assassination so far. You know, it seems they need a major overhaul, what they need is a new director from the outside that is not a part of this culture. Somehow, President Obama really recklessly disregards all the warning signs.
Kessler:This is a colossal lack of management on the part of President Obama. Because he is the one at risk here. He is the only one that can do anything about it. He has the ultimate power to change things there for his family and obviously for the White House and his administration.
In an op-ed for TIME, Kessler wrote the following about the Secret Service's failings:
While all of this may seem obvious, apparently it is not to Obama, who has defended the Secret Service and its leaders even as it let Michaele and Tareq Salahi and a third intruder, Carlos Allen, into a White House state dinner even though they were not on the guest list...
But given Obama’s lack of judgment, that is not going to happen. An assassination nullifies American democracy. But Obama will continue to insist that he has confidence in the Secret Service despite the risk to his own life and the lives of his family members, who would be prime targets of an attack by ISIS terrorists on the vulnerable White House."
Hey, did you get all that? Because it's pretty goddamn clear to me that Kessler is not only pointing the finger at some kind of ambiguous "cultural" issue that he repeatedly insists is President's Obama's direct fault, he also implicitly threatened the safety of the president's family was at risk because he's too incompetent to oversee his own security. And he made it crystal clear that he thinks there is no one else responsible for this situation other than the president.
As I wrote previously over at Mic, the Secret Service has an awful lot of explaining to do as far as how the latest intruder got so far into the White House itself before being tackled. Additionally, Tommy Christopher has written about whether or not the Secret Service actually lied to the president over the extent of the breach. Everyone is in agreement that the president's security needs an overhaul. But blaming the president -- a civilian official with no formal security experience and who deserves the luxury of not having to worry about whether his bodyguards are keeping him safe at every second -- for the failures of that service is ridiculous. What's more, Kessler cites absolutely nothing other than the standard Republican talking points and his own interviews, which of course are all with anonymous sources.
If Kessler was actually concerned about the president's security, he'd take issue with the agency's leadership rather than president's theoretical laziness. Instead, he wants to sell a lot of copies of his book. By deliberately trying to politicize the president's security, Kessler is undermining the absolute confidence in the Secret Service that is imperative to its image - not to mention that it's pretty sick to suggest the president is so feckless and ineffectual that he is putting his own family at risk of murder. Kessler wants you to know that if America's first black president or members of his family get killed by a random crazy person, it was his own fault.
So, Politico, which is it? Was Kessler's conclusion "misinterpreted," or did you deliberately give a platform to a guy who has been openly blaming the president for his own potential assassination for the past couple of weeks? It's pretty clear to me, at least, that there wasn't much room for an alternate interpretation.