While we share the belief of most Americans that candidates for office should run on a level playing field, we are not naïve enough to believe incumbency doesn’t matter. There are perks that come with political office, particularly the highest political office in the land. For example, presidents running for reelection are allowed to use Air Force One, with all its attendant trappings of power, when traveling to and from campaign events – though their campaigns are required to reimburse the public treasury for expenses incurred.
Yet recent reports suggest President Obama takes a very – you’ll pardon the expression – liberal view of his entitlement to use public resources for political gain. This may be of a piece with his unprecedented intervention in Supreme Court deliberations and “scrubbing” official documents to buttress Justice Department positions in Supreme Court litigation – actions we have analyzed in several recent editorials.
President John Kennedy had commissioned the White House Historical Association to publish a book with short biographical sketches of American presidents to complement the paintings of presidents hanging in the White House. Over the years the book was republished with additional information on new presidents.
With the advent of the Internet, the sketches began to be carried on the official White House website, which is separate and apart from the president’s reelection campaign.
As was widely reported last week, the Obama administration, in unprecedented fashion, has added references to Mr. Obama to the website biographies of every president since Calvin Coolidge (with the exception of Gerald Ford), linking, with much stretching, things Mr. Obama has said or done to things each of the other presidents said or did.
Most observers seem to dismiss this as a relatively innocuous step taken by a president increasingly anxious about his reelection prospects, though they mocked him for the narcissism of it.
Not to put too fine a point on it, we suggest another take.
For one thing, this president seems to have little regard for the historical record or his role as its guardian in chief. For another, a provision of federal criminal law subjects to a fine and/or imprisonment anyone who “embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use…any record…of the United States….”
Even those who would pooh-pooh the notion that a crime may have been committed surely would agree that the spirit of the law was violated and the envelope pushed beyond anything we’ve seen before.
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