So apparently the way to get presidential candidates to talk seriously about issues is to put them on Spanish-language TV. First there was Republican challenger Mitt Romney getting a spinal tap over his shifting immigration views, if you can be married and gay at the same time, and whether he was wearing brownface.
Now President Obama must also be wondering what happened to the good old days when all you had to do was print up some "Adelante" flyers and say a few words in halting Spanish on the stump.
Speaking with Univision co-hosts Maria Elena Salinas and Jorge Ramos, Obama got tough questions on his State Department's complete unpreparedness for the September 11 embassy attacks and other topics.
But the high point came when Salinas and Ramos turned to Obama's catastrophic ramping up of the war on drugs and the deadly Fast and Furious operation by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Referring to the 65,000 people who have been killed in drug violence in Mexico, Salinas asked, "How many people have to die before the strategy changes?"
"The United States can focus on drug treatment and prevention and helping people deal with addiction, making sure young people are not getting hooked on drugs," the former Choom Gang leader asserted. "If we can reduce demand, that means less cash flowing into these drug cartels. And we have actually beefed up our investment and support in prevention, because we have to treat this as a public health problem in the United States, not just a law enforcement problem."
While it wasn't a very serious response, this is the first time Obama has replied to drug-policy questions with something other than japery. And the talk got even more grim when Ramos turned to the Department of Justice Inspector General's report on the Fast and Furious operation in which the ATF intentionally provided weapons to drug cartels, an initiative that apparently netted no useful information and led to the death of border agent Brian Terry in December 2010. Here's the transcript, courtesy of the Daily Caller:
Ramos: You told me during an interview that you and Mr. Holder did not authorize the Fast and Furious operation that allowed 2,000 weapons from the United States into Mexico and they were in the drug trafficking [cartels'] hands. I think that up to 100 Mexicans might have died and also American agent Brian Terry. There's a report that 14 agents were responsible for the operation but shouldn't the attorney general, Eric Holder, he should have known about that and if he didn't, should you fire him?
Obama: Well, first of all, I think it's important to understand that the Fast and Furious program was a field-initiated program, begun under the previous administration. When Eric Holder found out about it, he discontinued it. We assigned an inspector general to do a thorough report that was just issued — confirming that in fact Eric Holder did not know about this, that he took prompt action and that the people who did initiate this were held accountable. But, what I think is most important is recognizing that we've got a challenge in terms of weapons flowing south, and the strategy that was pursued out of Arizona, obviously, was completely wrongheaded. Those folks who were responsible have been held accountable. The question now is, how do we move forward with a strategy that will actually work?
We are going to have to work with Mexican law enforcement to accomplish this, but I will tell you that Eric Holder has my complete confidence, because he has shown himself to be willing to hold accountable those who took these actions and is passionate about making sure that we're preventing guns from getting into the wrong hands.
Ramos: But if you have nothing to hide, then why are you not releasing papers to the –
Obama: The truth is we've released thousands of papers.
Ramos: But not all of them.
Obama: We've released almost all of them. The ones that we don't release, typically, relate to internal communications that were not related to the actual Fast and Furious operation. The challenge that we have is that, at any given moment in the federal government, there may be people who do dumb things, and I've seen it, I promise. Ultimately, I'm responsible and my key managers, including the attorney general, are responsible for holding those people accountable, for making sure that they are fired if they do dumb things and then fixing the system to ensure that it doesn't happen again, and I'm very confident that you will not see any kinds of actions like this in the future, but what I don't like to see is these kinds of issues becoming political circuses or ways to score political points in Congress partly because it becomes a distraction from us doing the business that we need to do for the American people.
Salinas: Let's have an independent investigation, because at the end of the day, this is the Justice Department investigating its boss and is saying they say is not at fault? Why don't we have, very briefly, an independent investigation that is not done by the Justice Department?
Obama: Well, understand that, not only have we had multiple hearings in Congress, but the inspector general is put in place specifically to be independent from the attorney general. This attorney general's [sic] report was not a whitewash in any way. I mean, it was tough on the Justice Department, and it indicated that, potentially, more supervision was needed, people should have known in some cases, even if they didn't actually know. So, it was, I think, independent, honest, it was a clear assessment of what had gone wrong in that situation.
And we are happy to continue to provide the information that is relevant to this, but one of the things that happens in Washington is, very quickly, these issues become political distractions as opposed to us actually solving the problems that we need to solve," Obama continued. "And, this issue of guns flowing south is a hard issue to solve, because this country respects the Second Amendment, we want to protect the rights of gun owners and those who are seeking to purchase firearms, but oftentimes that's exploited as well. And so we've got to make sure we're properly balancing the rights of U.S. citizens but making sure that we're also interdicting those arms that would get into the hands of criminals.
Will Obama ever get tired of blaming Bush? Terry was killed nearly two years into Obama's presidency, and Fast and Furious was not in fact shut down for more than a month after his murder, in large part thanks to pressure from Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). It's always worth keeping in mind that bad policy transcends presidential administrations, and that the ATF should have been shut down after (or actually before) the mass slaughter in Waco Texas in 1993. But the idea that Solyndra, Fast and Furious, a $16 trillion debt, four years of 8+-percent unemployment, and the Washington Nationals' now-broken playoff drought can all be laid on George W. Bush's shoulders, well, that makes me want to press 2 for Spanish.