The “Know Nothing Party” President

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by Dianne Hermann (Copyright 2013)

President Obama has earned himself the inauspicious title of the Know Nothing Party President. Remember the Know Nothing Party?

Obama’s administration is reeling from numerous scandals and accusations within the State Department, DOJ, IRS, and NSA, just to name a few. But when the president is asked at press conferences about problems within these government agencies or the consequences of one of his policies Obama’s reply is often that he knows nothing about it. In fact, he claims he found out about it from the news media, just like me.

This led me to research the Know Nothing Party of the 1800s. Many people have never heard of the “Know Nothing” Party since its sphere of influence, although powerful, lasted only a few years. The party received its name from the fact that, when members were asked about the party’s inner workings, they were instructed to reply, “I know nothing.” Do you see a parallel?

The Know Nothing Party is believed to have formed from a secret society in New York City in the 1840s. The party’s platform was derived from its anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant stance. Some of their members were elected to local and state offices in the wake of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and allowed those territories to decide the slavery issue for themselves.

Whig Party candidate Millard Fillmore failed to get the re-nomination for a second term as president in 1856 because the secretive Know Nothing Party’s support went to another Whig candidate, Winfield Scott. But Democrat Franklin Pierce won the election. Almost as quickly as it formed the Know Nothing Party (and eventually the Whigs) disintegrated and is now merely a speck on history’s political landscape.

Fast-forward a century and a half when we see the reincarnation of the Know Nothing Party in our current president. As recently as May of this year President Obama invoked the “Know Nothing” response at a press conference. When asked about the IRS scandal Obama responded, “I can assure you that I certainly did not know anything about the IG’s report before the IG report had been leaked through the press.” But in his usual confusing ambiguity we are left wondering what he didn’t know and when he didn’t know it.

In April, when asked about possible witnesses testifying in the wake of the Bengazi Embassy assassinations Obama said, “I’m not familiar with it.”

The “Know Nothing” responses from Obama are so frequent and familiar that even late night talk shows hosts have picked up the banner. In one of his monologues on NBC’s Tonight Show Jay Leno quipped, “They took ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ out of the Pentagon and moved it into the White House.”

It seems that knowing nothing has become the talking point de jour for all White House staff. Even Eric Holder, when asked about the Department of Justice seizing AP phone records had to admit, “This is both an ongoing matter, and an ongoing matter about which I know nothing.” When FBI Director Robert Mueller was asked if he knew which of his agents was the lead investigator in the IRS scandals, he responded, “Off the top of my head, no.”

After Obama selected Gen. David Petraeus to head the CIA we knew little about the CIA military drone strikes over Pakistan and less about the FBI aerial surveillance drones spying on us over American soil. These drones are apparently spying on us to keep us safe.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was among several members of Congress who expressed concern. When asked whether the FBI spy drones were known about before the Mueller hearing, Grassley told CNN “absolutely not.” Grassley added the FBI was asked last year whether agents were using drones but the bureau never got back with an answer. I guess they knew nothing about it either.

The airwaves and cyber space erupted in outrage. If somebody knows something, they’re not telling us! Now it seems “We the People” have become the Know Nothings.

So if Obama (or anyone else in the Obama Administration) knows nothing about what is going on in his own government, then who is running the country? The Whigs perhaps? I guess if nobody knows anything about anything or anybody then they can’t be held responsible, can they?

Remember when the proverbial buck used to stop at the president’s desk? Apparently is doesn’t anymore. Listen to the cry of the circus barker who spins the wheel and mysteriously tells the crowd, “Round and round it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.”

Nobody knows. Nobody knows.

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