Benghazi and Two Other "Scandals"
Amidst all the bluster there are some real policy issues surrounding Benghazi. They do not have to do, however, with what Secretary Clinton did or did not know about what was or what was not said during the preparation of the talking points, though I wonder why Susan Rice got stuck with the job of delivering them. As others have noted, Clinton, as is her wont, did not want her own prints on it and so stayed off the Sunday shows. Moreover, all the Republican Senators make their case by mischaracterizing what Rice said. She did not say anything definitively but only suggested that this is what was known at the moment, and therefore subject to change, and she did not say that the Benghazi attacks started with a demonstration, only that a demonstration may have been there at the start and then other forces arrived at the scene to take advantage of that. Given the history of lies by Condi, Chaney, Bush and, sorry to say, by Colin Powell, in the previous administration, what Susan Rice said was a model of candor. That Republican Senators get all caught up in outrage just goes to show that these people have no shame. I don’t think you have to get to the substance that may be at the bottom of what they are saying because the bottom is their political motives. They are getting into high Hillary hatred mode, and we know how vile that can be.
No, the real issue of Benghazi, which as a scandal is not worth pursuing at all, is the state of the U. S. military. Do we not have a rapid response team anywhere in the Mediterranean? The days of the Cold War may be gone, but there are certainly enough pressure points in the area to justify one in the age of terrorist attacks that can break out anywhere at any time. Does it really take eight hours, including fueling and plane prep time, to get an airplane over Benghazi? I know that this isn’t the Battle of Britain, with planes and pilots at the ready, but still. Is this the result of budget cuts? Maybe it is the refusal of the military to take responsibility for diplomatic security and so they do not prepare for the eventuality of being called upon to do the job anyway. All this does deserve investigation, not the State Department. Yes, I know that military issues are sometimes referred to by print and media journalists, but mainly as a throwaway line that is not followed up. Meet the Press could interview the Defense Secretary or the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee about Benghazi.
But never mind. That is already to take Benghazi too seriously. It is a political issue, pure and simple. The political wags say that it is no news that this is not a well run administration. In comparison to what? Hurricane Katrina was not handled all that well. This has, in fact, been a remarkably scandal free administration, and the best the Republicans can come up with is that some public relations considerations went into what was going to be said about Benghazi.
The IRS scandal is less a tempest in a teapot than it is turning the corner and making a legitimate investigation into an inappropriate one. Those tea party and patriot organizations should indeed have been investigated. The names are not neutral; they tell exactly what the ideology of those organizations are, and those organizations have become well known in recent years for trying to get around IRS regulations so that they can engage in political activities that would require greater disclosure of their funding sources. Liberal organizations have not been all that ready to do so. The right wing organizations are refusing to live up to standards of the same federal tax code to which I am subject. So what is at stake is the integrity of the IRS as willing to go after at least some of the organizations trying to avoid regulations.
But Obama is not good at delivering a punch to the gut the way he was when he got the black vote away from Hillary by having his people mischaracterize as racist some remarks that Bill had made. He is too much interested in governing and not enough in taking the political wars to his opponents. Not that it does him much good to take the high road. Now he is the one who the press says is unwilling to compromise.
The story about wire-tapping the AP is just part of the pile on. Republicans smell blood and so they can characterize whatever the administration does as part of its fecklessness and its villainy. These Republicans defenders of the freedom of the press were nowhere to be seen when the Patriot Act was originally adopted or when it came up for reauthorization. Everybody knew that the Justice Department had been empowered to go after telephone conversations subject only to a court order by a secret court. Everybody knows that you should never say over the telephone or in your e-mail what you don’t want the New York Times or the FBI to know. That is one of the prices we pay for the war on terror.
Yet these three issues emerge in the past few weeks for media attention. I think of it as part of the Republican counterattack against the President. They can’t beat him on the issues and so they beat him by crowding the airways with talk about scandal that amount to nothing if one probes just a bit, and they do not probe. The liberal commentators are the worst because they see themselves as having to bend over backwards not to seem partisan and so give liberal knee jerk reactions about no group, left or right, as deserving IRS attention, which is vacuous, when you consider the money at stake not to the IRS but to these organizations. The liberals feel better, though, when they show they are just as patriotic as right wingers. They have been caught flatfooted and have not found a way to respond, whether by defending their own point of view or developing relevant information. Righteousness on the right is apparently a veto to all rational thought.
Obama had the Republicans on the ropes until last week. He may have lost the gun control vote but he had Senators who voted against gun control a bit frightened and that boded well for the upcoming fight over immigration. And if he kept to the issues, he would win the House in the midterms. But you have noticed what the three “scandals” have knocked out of attention. Nobody is talking about gun control and immigration, not even on MSNBC. The Republicans think they can keep the House and maybe take over the center if they use scandal rather than issues as the basis of their campaigns, just as not so long ago they ran with social issues to distract voters from economic issues. Will somebody ask Morning Joe whether loyalty to party still overtakes loyalty to issues?
Conspiracy theories are the purview of the Right. That may be the case because people on the right are ignorant of anything else as an explanation of how Washington works and may also be because they want to excuse Republican administrations which do deal in conspiracies and cover-ups. They think that Dallas and 24 and Homeland represent a true picture of American politics. Everybody is a double agent or doing the opposite of what they seem to be doing. Right wing radio callers think Obama is conspiring to undermine the Supreme Court decision to extend free speech to corporations. Everything is devious and of doubtful and contrary motives. But no, the Obama Justice Department is only trying to enforce the law as it presently is.
One of the refreshing things about The West Wing was that it made abundantly clear that the drama of Washington lay in what was apparent about Washington: West Wing heavy weights dicker among themselves and mostly try to resolve issues on their merits. The voter knows what they have to know about a candidate. Romney was for government by and for the rich because he said as much to a group of his supporters and what he wanted to do about immigrants was to get them to self-deport. That he might want to govern from the center was a fantasy propounded by his supporters and a hope cherished by those who thought any sensible President wants to govern from the center, and so now rechristen Reagan as a centrist when he was a right winger who just knew the limitations of what he could get.
Even the Bush Wars are about what is out in the open rather than what people conspire to hide away. Bush’s people said out front that they thought that there were weapons of mass destruction that Saddam could launch at any moment. That they cooked the books so that the CIA would come to that conclusion does not make it a conspiracy, only a pack of lies that some higher ups agreed to. Chaney and Bush never held a council of war to decide to go ahead with the Iraq War and nobody ever asked them if they had when knowing the answer to that might have made a difference.
It is very difficult to debunk the conspiratorial mentality because what is at stake is a cynical stance towards life rather than an alternative analysis of politics. Conspiracy is the resort of people who have been deflated by life or overwhelmed by it and so take up a Manichean perception of the way things work: I am always a victim and I resent the higher ups who make me so. Sweet reason doesn’t have a chance, and yet it is the only way the other side can make headway, as it did in 2008 when in a campaign not burdened down by substance on either side, people gave voice to an uplifting sentiment. Obama’s face and manner were his campaign. He is less aglow these days, given the drubbings he gets, but I hope he can rise to the occasion, as he sometimes does, and give a major league speech that goes through the facts on all three of these “scandals” and so confronts conspiracy in its lair.