As I remember it, I was in the White House Briefing Room in February 2009 when I heard something shocking. I’d covered the White House since 1997, and I couldn’t really remember hearing something like this before.
The White House, in the person of Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, was assailing a private citizen. CNBC reporter Rick Santelli had had the nerve to object volubly to President Obama’s mortgage refinancing assistance plan. And so Gibbs attacked:
Well, let’s go through this, because I do think this is very important. And I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives, or in what house he lives, but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgage, stay in their job, pay their bills, to send their kids to school, and to hope that they don’t get sick or that somebody they care for gets sick and sends them into bankruptcy.
I also think it’s tremendously important that for people who rant on cable television to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Many brushed it off because Santelli was on TV and presumably was used to rough and tumble and could defend himself. That he was on TV, of course, actually made Gibbs’ comments worse, because the president’s press secretary was chilling free speech.
Soon enough, Gibbs went on to others, sticking it to Rush Limbaugh and even an entire network, Fox News.
People got used to it. Attacking private citizens became the new normal.
But what a slippery slope Mr. Gibbs put us on. I hope you noticed this piece Friday by Kimberly Strassel of the Wall Street Journal. The Obama campaign is busying itself looking into the private lives of donors to Mitt Romney. It is merely the logical extension of the thinking at the White House, which makes Obama enemies in the private sector – and their speech – fair game.
From her piece:
Three weeks ago, an Obama campaign website, “Keeping GOP Honest,” took the extraordinary step of publicly naming and assailing eight private citizens backing Mr. Romney. Titled “Behind the curtain: a brief history of Romney’s donors,” the post accused the eight of being “wealthy individuals with less-than-reputable records.” Mr. VanderSloot was one of the eight, smeared particularly as being “litigious, combative and a bitter foe of the gay rights movement.”
About a week after that post, a man named Michael Wolf contacted the Bonneville County Courthouse in Idaho Falls in search of court records regarding Mr. VanderSloot. Specifically, Mr. Wolf wanted all the documents dealing with Mr. VanderSloot’s divorces, as well as a case involving a dispute with a former Melaleuca employee.
This is the very worst thing a government – or its proxies – can do. It is the practice of the world’s small petty satraps and its totalitarian behemoths. It’s just not tolerable here.
And yet, it’s happening. The White House has gone from criticizing private citizens to investigating them. What’s next, arresting them?
What if Mr. Wolf comes up with some illegal activity on the part of Mr. VanderSloot. Well, it’s his duty – just doing his duty – to alert Mr. Holder.
And then we have our very first political prisoner. Hopefully Mr. Gibbs will bake him a cake.