Republican Scandal Mongering
Now I am getting angry. The Oklahoma tornado gave some respite from the silliness of what is now the crisis of the three scandals, which means that it has become a political moment rather than just a dust up, and therefore it has to be accounted for, which is to give it more significance than it deserves. But it is now part of the history of the Obama Administration, and so has to be dealt with.
Ever since the Benghazi, IRS and AP stories broke, the Republicans have been looking for pay dirt. The e-mails on Benghazi showed that it was just the usual interagency squabbling and could even be seen as an attempt to quite properly cover up the extent to which the CIA had been active in Benghazi. That is a national security interest. The Republicans think Obama is on the run because they found out a few days ago something that had not been previously revealed, which is that the White House had been informed about the IRS investigation but hadnít brought it to Obamaís attention. That is used to show the President is not in charge when what it shows is that the White House is, if anything, overly meticulous about correct procedure. It would have been inappropriate to bring the President into play. I thought we wanted the IRS to be independent of White House supervision. But that doesnít matter. First the charges voiced as if they are a smoking gun and then the investigation to follow later to prove the charges already accepted as true. This is the way the Queen reasons in Alice in Wonderland.
The AP story has to do with a violation of national security that that compromised intelligence sources. No one says otherwise, but the people on the talk shows are up in arms because their own prerogatives are being threatened. This will, they say, have a chilling effect on getting whistleblowers to tell them things. Well, the people who revealed we had a mole in Al Quada are considerably worse than whistleblowers who reveal, let us say, theft and corruption and inefficiency. They are the equivalent of those who provided the details of troop movements in World War II which the Chicago Tribune then printed. Are journalists saying that such details are now fair game? The Pentagon Papers was an historical account of a war that was largely over and so their publication was only politically embarrassing. The Pentagon Papers did not reveal any ongoing military operations.
By the way, shouldnít the media recuse itself from discussing the AP case matters because it so clearly have a stake in it? At the least, on air discussions might include someone who is not from the mediaósome professor or lawyer who can look at the matter somewhat objectively rather than from the perspective of someone whose own innards are being gored. But the media are too outraged to listen to anything but voices that confirm what they believe, which is that investigative journalism of the sort practiced by Woodward and Bernstein is in dangeróand they get Woodward and Bernstein to weigh in on the freedoms of the press.
I, for one, do not think that investigative journalism is the heart of journalism, just one of its more baroque additions. Getting the story right of what was said at hearings and in official documents and going through a lot of documents to find some kernels of truth is more in line with what journalists do. But talking heads are remarkably loose about what they report as fact. This morning, for example, it was reported on Morning Joe that Lois Lerner had dismissed herself from the IRS hearings. That was not the simple truth. She had been excused by Chairman Issa because even he thought she was in her rights to invoke the Fifth Amendment, or so he said, and we will see what he does to try to compel her to testify. Get the facts straight and then get to your opinions, journalists. Loose lips sink freedoms.
There is no substance to the three scandals as of yet. All Congress has is its accusation that the IRS category list must have been politically motivated when that category list was like as not just very sloppy thinking, given the fact that, as someone on Chris Matthews said last night, it would have been easy enough to pick out less controversial categories, such as which organizations applying for tax exempt status had come into existence within a year of an election. A conspiracy to disenfranchise the Right, especially if it emanated from the White House, would have been less crude.
But even more important than that the charges have no substance in that the Republicans have nothing going for them except carping. The real issue is what the Republicans want to do about real things and they offer nothing. Do they want to do legislative things, like fix the IRS code so as to enforce what is actually the law, which is that tax exempt organizations can engage in no political activity? No. They just want to know who knew what when even though they do not have a clear handle on what happened only what they surmise must have happened, which is that there was outside political influence on the IRS, when there is no information to that effect. Nor are Republicans, those Johnny-come-latelies to the freedom of the press, who certainly do not now want the press shield law they voted against a few years ago. The Republicans voted to cut money from the IRS. Also remember that the Republicans voted a few years ago to cut the budget for embassy security, not to raise it. The only thing the Republicans are masterful at is blaming Obama for having to deal with the fruit of their own policies. They want to starve the government so that it canít work and then when it doesnít work, they blame Obama.
There is the same guilty pleasure in watching Congressional hearings as there is in watching Judge Judy. She also badgers witnesses, cuts them off before they can say what they came to say by way of explanation, and villianizes some people rather than others on the basis of very little evidence other than her own gut instinct about who is a good guy and who is a bad guy. Most of us have a bit of a desire to be that judgmental but control it because we know better. People donít deserve to be treated like that and people and their motives are more complicated than that. But Congress people have no such qualms, and so they are fantasies for us to indulge rather than to replicate in real life. I often ponder how I would answer back as a witness, how I would get just as self-righteous as my tormentors, but I know that if the occasion ever arose, I would mind my pís and qís so as not to get in trouble. I am glad that Lois Lerner had the good fortune for it to be legally appropriate for her to plead the Fifth Amendmentóthough I donít know why her attorney even allowed her to give that opening statement that might lead to troubleóand so got herself removed from the witness chair before the committee could piss on her.
The Republicans will run these three scandals into the ground because scandal is the only issue they can take into the midterms, now that the economy has improved, and Obama, to everybodyís relief, is succeeding in keeping us out of Syria, and is cutting down on the drone war basically because we have won it. Obamaís speech today made news because it was of substance. He made the radical suggestion that we should close down the war on terror and continue a war only on terrorists the way we did before 9/11. All wars, he said, have to come to an end. That certainly should bait Republicans into attacking him, especially on his revival of his plan to close Guantanamo. But I am not sure that they will be suckered into a policy debate when they are doing so well in a multi-front debate about nothing.
It is up to the media to be responsible and so far they havenít been. That is not because they have anything against Obama; they like him on MSNBC. But the media need stories, are punch drunk from the need for more material, and so will glom onto anything that comes over the transom as a story. And so even my beloved Chris Matthews doesnít bother to think these stories through so anxious is he to get something to feed his outrage, and these scandals suit his need to be, in his own mind, evenhanded, willing to go after Democrats and not just Republicans. But, as he well knows, Obama may well prefer governing to politics, but Republicans only know how to do politics, have given up any hope of being a governing party in part because they do not know what they would do if there were to win the White House. This evening, Chris did spend some time on the Presidentís speech but he canít give up on the IRS story. So not just Congressional committees deserve our ire but also the notion of evenhandedness. Presume that whatever the Republicans push out is just garbage until it is definitively proven otherwise. And I have confidence that the American people will come on its own to the same conclusion by just comparing the obvious seriousness of the foreign policy speech with the obvious mean-spiritedness of Republican scandal mongering. The public knows better than to take the pundits as seriously as I do.