Turn on any news station this past week, and you’ll see the Republicans practically wetting themselves with glee over the triple “scandal” smorgasbord that’s been laid out before them (the Justice Department’s subpoenaing of AP phone records; the attack in Benghazi; and the IRS’s scrutiny of right-leaning “social welfare” groups).
First, some context
We all know that it’s been the Republican’s number one priority to see President Obama fail. (And I’m not making that up – they’ve stated it many times.) How ridiculous has this gotten? Way ridiculous. The conspiracy freak show hasn’t let up since Obama was elected 5 years ago. He can barely pass gas without a GOP congressperson being “outraged” and calling for impeachment. This week a picture of him making a speech in the rain with a marine holding an umbrella for him became a “thing” for people to be outraged about. (For the record, it took me about three minutes to find pictures of marines holding umbrellas for Clinton, both Bushes and Reagan.)
In fact, on Thursday of this past week CBS News reported on a letter they had obtained written by the Heritage Foundation to conservative members of Congress urging Republicans not to govern, but to instead focus on the would-be “scandals” plaguing the Obama administration. The letter, which is addressed to House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, trumpets the negative media buzz surrounding the White House, saying:
it is incumbent upon the House of Representatives to conduct oversight hearings on those actions, but it would be imprudent to do anything that shifts the focus from the Obama administration…To that end, we urge you to avoid bringing any legislation to the House Floor…
The *Tea Party and their minions in Congress have been relentless. Obama is a communist, socialist, Marxist, dictator (somehow all at the same time); he spent years worshiping in a radical, anti-American Christian church but is a Muslim; he’s been gay married and probably killed his ex-lover (seriously); and, of course, the birthers are still scandalized that we elected a black man to the presidency. (There’s not room for this here, but there is SO much racism involved in all of this – don’t even get me started.)
And it doesn’t stop there. Obama is planning to confiscate everyone’s guns. He’s setting up death panels. He hates America and is trying to destroy it from within. Last week, in a delicious accident of timing, the Heritage Foundation (the architechs of the Citizens United Supreme Court debacle) put out a fundraising letter claiming that Obama was destroying the Stock Market – on the very day that stocks hit an all time record high.
I went on a *Tea Party site just now, and within two minutes I found about a dozen of these:
I happen to know a few people in the US secret service who say Obama is planning to take over the world and kill 80% of humanity. There is a whole lot of crap going on behind the scenes right now that humanity does not know about, which I will not mention but I would say everyone should go out and buy the biggest scariest gun you can find.
These people are nuts. And, yes, while this example may sound a bit extreme, it’s the anti-Obama faction in Congress and their Fox News mouthpiece that are continually fueling this sort of fear-based paranoia. Instead of governing, they are spending their time and energy (and our money) doing whatever they possibly can to de-legitimize the Obama presidency.
In fact, on Wednesday of this week the House voted again, for the 37th time (this isn’t an exaggeration), to repeal Obamacare, this time at the request of *Tea Party darling, bat shit crazy, “American was judged by God on 9/11” *Michelle Bachmann. This is absolutely not going to happen, of course — President Obama will not sign a repeal of a law he embraces. The House passed *Bachmann’s repeal bill 229-195 on Thursday, but with the Senate and White House opposed, that’s as far as it’s going it go. Congressman Tim Walz issued a statement bashing “side-show political votes on bills that have no chance of becoming law.”
Anyway, back to the current trifecta of “scandals.” Let’s take them one at a time:
What happened in Benghazi is a tragedy. No one is arguing that. But what Republicans keep hoping will become a major Obama scandal has been an embarrassment to them from the start. The Romney campaign’s attempts to play politics with Benghazi was a miserable failure. Hours after the attack, Mitt Romney issued a statement saying President Obama was “sympathizing with those who waged the attacks,” which made him look like a complete ass. The Romney campaign’s clumsiness turned what by cynical rules of D.C. politics should have been a layup — a terrorist attack on the anniversary of 9/11 happens right when a Republican challenger is accusing the sitting Democratic president of being soft on terrorism — into a win for Obama who looked better able to handle crises abroad and avoided the usual media freakout in the wake of a terrorist attack. A Romney aide’s new tell-all ebook says the off-key response “left the candidate naked, embarrassed, and disarmed.” Then a few months later, in probably the most awkward moment EVER in a presidential debate, Romney accused Obama of not using the word “terrorism” when describing the attack, then got schooled when the moderator told him, “Actually, he did call it terrorism” and quoted him chapter and verse.
Then it really took a turn toward crazy town.
Many conservatives have stated that Benghazi is one of the greatest scandals the country has ever seen. They actually are saying this. *Rush Limbaugh said last week:
It’s worse than Watergate. Nobody died in Watergate. Four people died in Benghazi. Nobody died in Watergate.
But for that comparison to make any sense at all, you’d have to assume that Obama ordered the attack on Benghazi, or at least that his reelection campaign did so on his behalf. Well, it turns out some people think that’s what happened. A theory has been circulating since October that the Benghazi attack was orchestrated by the Obama administration in cooperation with terrorists — that’s why there wasn’t enough security at the consulate. The terrorists would kidnap Ambassador Chris Stevens, and then set up a prisoner exchange, in which Obama would get Stevens back in exchange for the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman, who was convicted of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “The plan was to make Obama look like ‘a badass’ and to have him revel in this through October and into the November election,” Kevin DuJan wrote on HillBuzz.org on October 8.
So what actually happened? I have read hundreds of pages of coverage of this tragedy, and it seems to all boil down to this:
Prior to the attacks
Over the past many years, Congress has cut funding for all embassy security, despite the State Department’s repeated requests for more funding. And the State Department was way less prepared for this than they should have been for their own reasons – lack of organization, misplaced priorities, and more. A scathing report has been issued, and then Secretary of State Clinton has taken full responsibility. (Incidentally, there have been at least 10 attacks on US consulates abroad since 2002, resulting in 60 deaths. No one in Congress ever called for impeachment hearings – or any hearings- as a result.)
The night of the attacks
Republican investigators have continually dug up examples of things they think the military should have done (scrambled F-16s, dispatched FAST teams, etc.) and in every case the military has explained why they made the decisions they did. So far, anyway, the military’s explanations have struck me as pretty reasonable. They certainly sound as though they understand the military realities better than the Republican Monday morning quarterbacks do.
It’s also worth noting that there was simply no conceivable motive for the military not to respond forcefully to the Benghazi attacks. Maybe there was confusion and maybe there were bad decisions, but nothing more.
The months after the September 11 attacks
Did the Obama administration try to cover up what really happened in Benghazi? After eight months of throwing mud against the walls, nothing has stuck yet. For a few days after September 11, the intelligence community said that the attacks were preceded by protests, and that turned out to be wrong. But it was just wrong, not a cover-up. The intelligence community also believed—and still does—that the attacks were essentially opportunistic, not the results of weeks or months of planning. And Susan Rice, in her Sunday interviews, infamously mentioned the role of the “Innocence of Muslims” video that had sparked the Cairo protests earlier that day, and it’s fair to say that she probably put too much emphasis on that. She was repeating what she had been told the night before by the CIA. If they were mistaken, then they were mistaken, but this is far from being a “scandal.”
And then the Republicans, again, embarrass themselves. In case you missed it, last Friday ABC’s Jon Karl published what he represented as direct quotes from emails that he had “obtained” implicating the White House in an effort to provide cover for the State Department when formulating the Benghazi talking points. On Saturday, CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson also released what she claimed were emails from the discussion of those talking points.
But then on Tuesday, CNN’s Jake Tapper published actual emails from White House, which revealed that Karl’s and Attkisson’s supposed emails were fakes – they had been purposely (and inaccurately) paraphrased by Republican sources in order to make Obama look bad. Then on Wednesday, the White House released the full email chain, which revealed further discrepancies between the actual emails and the ones Republicans invented.
Again, there is not much evidence of even serious misjudgment, let alone cover-up or scandal. Nor is there any motive for it. The Republican theory has always been that Obama didn’t want to admit terrorist involvement because this would reflect badly on him, but this has never made any sense, either politically or practically. There’s just nothing there. But will this stop the GOP from holding more hearings? Of course not. There already have been more hearings on this tragedy than there were on the 9/11 attacks. Their motivation? Remember – Hillary may run for president in 2016.
C’mon people. Try governing for a change.
IRS and the *Tea Party
Let’s start by getting some perspective on the accusation of the IRS applying special scrutiny to *Tea Party organizations.
I know a little bit about becoming a non-profit organization under the IRS – I’ve applied for and received this designation (see The Hope Project). There are lots of hoops you have to jump through. And one of those hoops, for these *Tea Party groups, who were going after a 501(c)4 “social welfare” designation, is demonstrating that you are NOT organizing primarily for the purpose of political activity.
Now, think back to 2010, the year of the *tea party rebellion against Obama. Suddenly the IRS is receiving hundreds of new 501(c)(4) applications! A coincidental mass group desire on the part of conservatives to engage in “social welfare?” Of course not. Is there even one of my six readers out there who believe that these folks weren’t circling the political wagons, getting ready to do whatever they could to defeat Obama…which is not what that particular IRS designation is designed to exempt?
Ok – back to the scandal. Many of the stories have speculated on some ulterior motive to centralize the sudden burst of 501(c)(4) applications in Cincinnati as some nefarious plot. To the contrary, MOST exempt applications are processed in Cincinnati since 2000, and it would not surprise me that a specific team would be assigned to review them so as to match apples to apples.
So the specialized review team in Cincinnati, facing a substantial pile of suddenly-materialized 501(c)(4) organizations, which anyone who is not a moron would certainly view as national electioneering strategies, had to decide which ones to send questionnaires to in an attempt to probe for candidate-electioneering purposes.
The scandal: 25% of these organization selected for further workup (meaning, more questions than simply having their application granted at face value) had “*tea party” or “patriot” in their name. Remember, this is in 2010. What do you THINK these *Tea Party groups were up to? We’ve all seen the nearly treasonous actions of the conservatives in Congress gumming up the wheels of and destroying any remaining public faith in government by hijacking the filibuster as Standard Operating Procedure, for fear of being “primaried” by *Tea Party organizations back home. This, to me, strongly suggests that the review team was simply doing its job; and doing it well.
Bottom line: Should the IRS be unfairly scrutinizing one end of the political spectrum over another? Absolutely not. Was this being done in this case, during this particular time? Probably. Was it being done at Obama’s request? Of course not. This is not Watergate. Obama did not lie, he committed no crime, he initiated no conspiracy or cover up. In fact, he found out about these low-level employee’s actions through the media, and immediately he denounced this is “outrageous” and “unacceptable” and stated that the IRS needs to regain the nation’s trust. Higher ranking IRS officials have lost their jobs. Obama vowed that this sort of thing will not happen again. What else would we expect a president to do? Shit happens.
White House senior advisor Dan Pfeiffer told CBS:
What would be an actual real scandal in Washington would be if the president had been involved or had interfered in an IRS investigation. We need to not let Republicans drag Washington into a swamp of partisan fishing expeditions, trumped up hearings and false allegations.
Justice Department subpoenaing of AP phone records
I’m really torn on this one. Here are the two main positions:
Position A: The State Department was doing their job, and doing it well.
Some (very simplified) background. A terrorist was going to blow up a plane flying between the UK and the US. An undercover agent had managed to become a trusted member of the terrorist cell, and he got his hands on the bomb, which was eventually transferred to the US.
Someone in the intelligence community leaked this highly classified information to the media. President Obama was not happy about this leak. When asked about the subpoena of AP phone records, he explained that information leaks can put U.S. citizens at risk, and he stated that he makes “no apologies” over being concerned about sensitive material.
On one hand, I have trouble disagreeing with this. Leaks of this nature can kill people. Terrorists may accelerate their timelines and/or hunker in and become even more careful, undercover agents may by discovered or even just have years of infiltration and evidence suddenly made moot as terrorists switch strategies.
Position B: The government should leave the media alone and let them do their job
I also sympathize with this position. Here’s why:
As James Fallows writes in The Atlantic:
Secrets always get out. Presidents always hate it, and they always do their best to prevent it. Usually they manage to guard the truly life-and-death, real-time operational details — for instance, in Obama’s case, the suspected whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But always there are leaks. Always. And they are nearly always less consequential than is alleged at the time. Furthermore, after-the-fact hunts for leakers always go wrong. That is because they criminalize the delicate but essential relationship between reporters and government officials. The prosecutors always come across as over-reaching and too intrusive. The reporters and their news organizations always end up in a no-win situation: sometimes spending time in jail, often put in financial distress by legal costs, always torn between their professional/personal obligation to maintain confidence with their sources and the demands of prosecutors. And no good purpose is ever served.
Obama should know this. He must know it. He must know that no president looks better in history’s eyes for anti-leak prosecutions, and that many look worse. He must know what the open-ended “war on terror” has done to the balance of powers, the fabric of life, and the rule of law in our country.
I personally believe that President Obama has made a mistake in endorsing this investigation. That doesn’t make this a “scandal,” however. No laws have been broken. No one has lied or tried to cover this up. In fact, the reason the AP even knows about the subpoenas is that the Justice Department wrote them a letter telling them all about it! This isn’t even in the same zip code as Nixon being caught on tape planning to break in and steal and wire tap and lie.
And I’ll tell you what: If we were still in the Bush years, and this same exact thing had happened:
1) The news organizations would be as up in arms about it as they are now. However,
2) the Republicans would be hailing Bush as a defender of America and a fighter of terrorism and labeling anyone on the left who dared to question these subpoenas as “soft on terrorism.” Count on it.
P.S. Looks like Obama’s approval rating has stayed consistent despite these overhyped “scandals.” Maybe the *Tea Party’s credibility is waning?