The Latest Republican Strategy: Ceding the Playing Field

In my last post I argued that the American political landscape has shifted so far to the right in the past few decades that the Democrats under President Obama are now actually a little to the right of where Republican Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon stood half a century ago. Meanwhile, the Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even the former arch-conservative warrior of the 1960s, Barry Goldwater, would be seen as far too moderate for Republicans today. And Bob Dole, the Republican candidate for President in 1996 stated in an interview this past weekend that he wouldn’t make it in the Republican Party of today.

This shift to the right can be referred to as a “ratchet” effect. As Republicans move further to the right, the Democrats move over to occupy the new “middle” ground. Then, in the next election cycle when Republicans move even further to the right to differentiate themselves from Democrats and their policies, the Democrats once again move to the right to claim the newly vacated “center.” I am not the only one to notice this principle.

Two years ago, Ezra Klein wrote in The Washington Post:

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House in WashingtonPresident Obama, if you look closely at his positions, is a moderate Republican from the early 1990s. And the Republican Party he’s facing has abandoned many of its best ideas in its effort to oppose him.

This past weekend Klein returned to that theme in a new article for The Washington Post when he stated,

Over the last few years, the Republican Party has been retreating from policy ground they once held and salting the earth after them. This has coincided with, and perhaps even been driven by, the Democratic Party pushing into policy positions they once rejected as overly conservative.

Policy Platforms

Klein shows how this has happened in terms of three major policy platforms that he claims have dominated American politics in recent years: 1) a comprehensive health care plan, 2) a cap-and-trade plan to control environmental pollutants, and 3) a realignment of tax rates.

In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans staked out in the early ’90s — and often, well into the 2000s.

1) Consider comprehensive health care:

us_cities_health_careThe individual mandate was developed by a group of conservative economists in the early ’90s. … The conservative Heritage Foundation soon had an individual-mandate plan of its own, and when President Bill Clinton endorsed an employer mandate in his health-care proposal, both major Republican alternatives centered on an individual mandate. By 1995, more than 20 Senate Republicans … had sponsored one individual mandate bill or another.

In 2006 Governor Mitt Romney implemented an individual mandate health care plan in Massachusetts. Even Newt Gingrich supported it. However, when a nearly identical health care plan was passed by the Obama administration, Romney, Gingrich and virtually all Republicans denounced it and called for its repeal. Today, Klein notes,

[Republicans have] abandoned every idea even vaguely related to the Affordable Care Act. In fact, they pretty much abandoned all ideas related to universal coverage, or even big expansions of coverage. They decided some of them were downright unconstitutional.

2) With regard to climate change, Klein states,

coal-power-plant-usThere was a time when Republicans were leading the way on ideas to fight climate change [e.g. President George H.W. Bush’s Clean Air Act of 1990]. The first cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions was introduced into the Senate by Sen. John McCain. The McCain/ Palin ticket included a cap-and-trade plank. Some Republicans, like Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, supported a carbon tax.

However,

There’s no serious support in today’s Republican Party for doing anything about climate change. … Today’s Republican Party doesn’t want a cap-and-trade plan or a carbon tax or even money for renewable energy research.

3) With regard to adjusting tax rates, Republican President George H. W. Bush initially resisted tax increases. But he eventually realized that they would be necessary. In his 1990 budget he struck a deal with Democrats composed of roughly half tax increases and half spending cuts. He said at the time,

george-bush-2-300It is clear to me that both the size of the deficit problem and the need for a package that can be enacted require all of the following: entitlement and mandatory program reform, tax revenue increases, growth incentives, discretionary spending reductions, orderly reductions in defense expenditures, and budget process reform.

Today’s Republicans have adamantly rejected George H. W. Bush’s approach to balancing spending reductions with increases in tax revenues. Instead, they raise the mantra of “No new taxes” and insist that all spending reductions come from cuts to entitlements and discretionary spending alone.

Klein also reminds us of the abrupt recent reversal in Republican attitudes toward economic stimulus.

GeorgeWBushHIjoBack in 2008, President George W. Bush pushed for and signed the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008. In 2009, there were a variety of Republican stimulus plans. Back then, Republicans could believe in deficit-financed stimulus during an economic downturn. Today, that would get you driven out of the party.

What are we to make of these reversals in Republican policy? In his earlier essay, Klein noted that

The normal reason a party abandons its policy ideas is that those ideas fail in practice. But that’s not the case here. These initiatives were wildly successful. Gov. Mitt Romney passed an individual mandate in Massachusetts and drove its number of uninsured below 5 percent. The Clean Air Act of 1990 solved the sulfur-dioxide problem. The 1990 budget deal helped cut the deficit and set the stage for a remarkable run of growth.

Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals.

Ceding the Playing Field

As incredible as it sounds, today’s Republicans have abandoned the very economic policies that they once crafted – simply, it would appear, to deprive President Obama of any chance of bi-partisan success. Obama has from the beginning tried to work “across the aisle” in proposing policies that are based on Republican models and could reasonably expect some measure of Republican support. Instead, Republicans have disowned and denounced their own policies, as Klein puts it, “adopting a stance of unified, and occasionally hysterical, opposition” toward Obama and what they claim is the president’s “true” agenda – an agenda which certainly must be radically different from their own traditional policies.

two_party_system_xlargeAs Republicans continue to paint themselves into an increasingly extremist conservative corner, the range of options for the Democrats continues to expand. Although one hears repeated cries from Republicans that Obama is a dangerous radical socialist taking the country in the wrong direction, the President has instead claimed the moderate political center recently abandoned by most Republicans. The Democrats have adopted successful policies implemented by previous Republican administrations and now claim them as their own. While Republicans narrow their base to appeal to “true” conservatives, Democrats become free to expand their base to include many more moderate and independent voters.

It is not difficult to see where this will end. By retreating from the political main stream, the Republican Party is increasingly marginalizing itself and losing credibility. Unless it choses to change direction, it may soon speak for few beyond the radical fringe and cease to be a viable political party.

America’s Shift to the Right

One often hears conservative critics of President Obama objecting to his ‘radical’ agenda and the dangerous direction he is taking America. I have always been puzzled by this view. I find nothing in Obama’s policies that seems radical or that takes America in a direction Republicans themselves did not want to go at an earlier time.

The problem with these charges is that they fail to take into account the acute shift to the right in American politics over the past few decades. At one time the Republican Party contained liberal, moderate, and conservative wings, just as the Democratic Party does today. Both Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard M. Nixon represented the moderate Republican camp in their time.

After the Johnson presidency Democrats began to rebrand themselves in the 1970s as a more centrist party in hopes of picking up more of the conservative vote. They largely abandoned their earlier alliance with labour groups, for example, in hopes of gaining greater support from the business community. As they did so, Republicans moved further to the right to distinguish themselves from the Democrats.

RATCHET-2The net result has been referred to as “the ratchet effect” in American politics. As Republicans moved further to the right, the Democrats shifted to hold the new “middle” ground. In the next election cycle when the Republicans moved further to the right to appeal to their conservative base, the Democrats also moved further to the right to hold the newly vacated “centre.”

After more that four decades of this ratcheting to the right, President Obama is being called a radical, liberal socialist for promoting policies that are actually somewhat to the right of those followed by the last truly moderate Republican presidents, Eisenhower and Nixon.

Does this seem far-fetched? Consider the following:

Dwight_D._Eisenhower,_official_photo_portrait,_May_29,_1959During his two terms as president, Eisenhower continued the pre-war New Deal programs of the Truman era, expanded Social Security to cover an additional 10 million workers, created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, launched a massive stimulus program targeting infrastructure (the Interstate Highway System), desegregated the military, initiated the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960 and signed them into law, maintained high taxation rates, and cut the defense budget by 27 percent.

Richard_NixonPresident Nixon supported affirmative action and instituted the Clean Air Act. He also created the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to regulate safe working conditions. He expanded social Security benefits.

He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed a health reform plan that would require employers to buy health insurance for all their employees and proposed subsidized payments for those who could not afford it. His health reform program failed due to Democratic opposition; today the Republicans would defeat it.

football-fieldIf President Obama’s initiatives mirror those of the moderate Republicans Eisenhower and Nixon, where does the Republican Party stand today? As some respected political pundits have put it, using an analogy to football,

While the Democrats may have moved from their 40-yard line to their 25, the Republicans have gone from their 40 to somewhere behind their goal post.

Barry GoldwaterIs this an unrealistic assessment? Consider this: Barry Goldwater was the great conservative opponent of the moderate Republicans in the 1960s. In 1964 he defeated both moderates and liberals such as Nelson Rockefeller to win his party’s presidential nomination. It was the first time in decades that the nomination had gone to a staunch conservative rather than a moderate establishment candidate. But Goldwater’s views were seen as far too extreme for the times and he was defeated in a landslide, losing to Lyndon B. Johnson.

By the 1990s the political landscape had shifted far to the right and Barry Goldwater was now judged to be so moderate in his views that other Republicans ostracized him. As The Arizona Republic reported at the time,

In 1996, Barry Goldwater sat in his Paradise Valley home with Bob Dole and joked about his strange new standing as a GOP outsider. ”We’re the new liberals of the Republican Party,” Goldwater told Dole, who was then facing criticisms from hard-line conservatives in the presidential campaign. ”Can you imagine that?”

BobDole_bioBob Dole was himself the Republican nominee in the 1996 presidential election. He still considers himself to be a conservative in the traditional sense. This past weekend Chris Wallace interviewed the 89 year old Dole for the FOX News network and asked him,

Could people like Bob Dole, even Ronald Reagan, could you make it in today’s Republican Party?

And Dole firmly replied,

I doubt it. … Reagan wouldn’t have made it. Certainly Nixon couldn’t have made it.

There is something very strange going on when former Republican Presidents and conservative Republican Presidential candidates find themselves much too moderate for the Republican Party of today. I will have more to say on this in my next post.

The Benghazi Scandal Unravels

Benghazi-attack-e1347448340351Republicans have been accusing the Obama administration of a cover-up ever since the attack in Bengazhi last September that claimed the lives of four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.

After striking 5 committees, holding 9 investigative hearings and receiving 2 formal reports, they have uncovered little that is damaging. The key argument for a cover-up has come down to the talking points that Susan Rice used on Sunday morning talk shows immediately after the attack. Her remarks described the attack as a spontaneous assault by demonstrators. Later, however, the administration described it as an act of terror.

mitch-mcconnell-09081-1Last Sunday Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell repeated a now familiar refrain on NBC News’s Meet The Press,

[W]e know the administration kind of made up a tale here in order to make it seem like it wasn’t a terrorist attack. I think that’s worthy of investigation, and the investigations ought to go forward.

The favoured GOP theory is that the administration had edited the talking points to remove references to Al Qaeda and downplay the terrorist threat so as to benefit the Obama reelection campaign. But there has never been any hard evidence to support this theory.

jonathan_karl2Then on May 10, the ABC News Senior White House correspondent, Jonathan Karl, broke an exclusive story saying,

ABC News has obtained 12 different versions of the talking points that show they were extensively edited as they evolved from the drafts first written entirely by the CIA to the final version distributed to Congress and to U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice before she appeared on five talk shows the Sunday after that attack.

Karl concluded that the

White House emails reviewed by ABC News suggest the edits were made with extensive input from the State Department.  The edits included requests from the State Department that references to the Al Qaeda-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia be deleted as well [as] references to CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.

It was later revealed that ABC News had only obtained handwritten summaries of emails between the State Department and the CIA rather than the exact text of these emails themselves. The summaries had been leaked by a Republican source within the State Department who altered the content of the emails to suggest that a cover-up was taking place.

Benghazi InvestigationTo set matters straight, on May 16 the White House released copies of 100 emails and other additional supporting documents concerning the administration’s initial response to the Benghazi attack.

A detailed analysis by Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung of The Washington Post has shown that, contrary to Republican claims, Obama’s team did not delete references to Al Qaeda and terrorism to protect the State Department’s reputation. Instead, it was General David Petraeus, then the head of the CIA, who himself struck these references in an effort “to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.”

This revelation directly contradicts the Republican claim that “the CIA had wanted to tell the truth about what unfolded that day but that the State Department, with White House support, removed the information for political reasons amid a heated presidential campaign.”

susan_riceThe process of creating the talking points involved a flurry of activity between many actors operating under extreme time pressure. On Saturday, September 15 the talking points were finalized and given to Susan Rice in preparation for her televised appearances on Sunday morning. That Saturday evening the intelligence community received further information indicating that a demonstration had not taken place at the Benghazi compound as previously supposed, but this was not received in time to change the talking points. Instead, Rice spoke from the talking points she had been given, inadvertently setting off the firestorm that followed.

The public release of these emails has done a great deal to clarify the events that actually took place in the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks. They have also demolished the various GOP conspiracy theories of an orchestrated cover-up by the White House.

Once and for all, these emails thoroughly

disprove the GOP claim that the Obama administration struck references about Al Qaeda for political reasons;

– disprove the GOP claim that Obama lied about there being a protest in Benghazi to hide that it was a terrorist attack;

– disprove the GOP claim that the White House directed the intelligence agency to lie about whether Islamist terrorists were involved; and

– disprove the GOP claim that Susan Rice had access to the classified information and lied about it on television.

Now that the facts are in, the only ones actually implicated by scandal in the course of this investigation happen to be Republicans. As Sarah Johns of Politicususa observes,

There was no cover up by the White House or State Department. There was, however, a deceptively edited email leaked to the press by a Republican on Capitol Hill, and there was a Republican hero who demanded changes to the talking points in order to make himself look better.

The attempts to bury President Obama under this “scandal” seem to have failed completely.

Obama-Surprise!

Closing Gitmo

GeorgeWBushHIjoWhy wasn’t Guantanamo shut down long ago? As Rachael Maddow demonstrated on her news show last night, back in 2007 President George. W. Bush stated his strong desire to close Guantanamo.

I’d like to end Guantanamo. I’d like it to be over with. One of the things we will do is we will send people back to their home countries.

Back in 2007 Republican presidential nominee John McCain was also in favour of closing Guantanamo and clearly stated so in his campaign. Every one of the candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination at that time were in favour of closing Guantanamo, including Senator Barack Obama, who stated,

We’re going to lead by shutting down Guantanamo and restoring habeus corpus in this country so that we offer [other countries] an example.

obama-signAfter Barack Obama took office it seemed like there would be broad bi-partisan support for closing the detention facility at Guantanamo. On his second day in office Obama signed an executive order calling on Congress to take the necessary steps to close Guantanamo within the year. This would entail making a determination for every detainee many of whom were being held without charge. Those who clearly posed no danger would be released and sent back to their home countries, while those facing charges would be transferred to American soil and tried within the U.S. justice system.

Then the Republican pushback began. Less than a month after the President signed this executive order, Republicans in Congress began trying to block the transfer of any of the detainees to prisons in the U.S. The Democrats in Congress caved in to pressure, and together with the Republicans voted to take away the money needed to close Guantanamo.

The following year Congress again took away the money for closing Guantanamo and voted to block the President from transferring anyone out of Guantanamo into the U.S. justice system. Since the Republican gains in the 2010 elections, there has been no willingness to reverse this decision.

20130523-obama-defense-600x-1369340284President Obama reminded his audience in his address to the National Defense University in Washington yesterday that

As president, I have tried to close Gitmo. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries, or imprisoning them in the United States. These restrictions make no sense.

Obviously this impasse cannot go on indefinitely. As Obama stated in his speech,

Imagine a future 10 years from now or 20 years from now when the United States of America is still holding people who have been charged with no crime on a piece of land that is not part of our country.

Look at the current situation where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike. … Is this who we are? … Is that the America we want to leave our children?

The President is once again pressing Congress to approve the closing of Guantanamo.

[T]here is no justification beyond politics for Congress to prevent us from closing a facility that should never have been opened. Today I once again call on Congress to lift the restrictions on detainee transfers from Gitmo.

McCain & GrahamWill Congress finally act to get the job done? In a strongly divided legislature it seems doubtful that Republicans will sufficiently rally around the President’s request to make it happen. Nevertheless, the President has initially received some qualified support from two prominent Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

Their support may be critical to getting Guantanamo closed and bringing this divisive and controversial phase of American policy to an end.

The Politics of Doubt

Seal_of_the_United_States_House_of_Representatives.svgLast week Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for the 37th time since 2011 to repeal the Affordable Care Act either in part or in full. On the surface it seems to be a totally unproductive maneuver. After all, the highest court in the land has upheld the legality of the Affordable Care Act. You would think Republicans would accept that fact and just get on with other things. Instead, the House has devoted considerable time, resources and public funds to mounting these unrelenting attacks on “Obamacare.” The spotlight is trained on this issue again and again, seemingly without end.

Democratic leaders have harshly criticized this most recent vote. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stated,

Albert Einstein defined insanity as follows: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If his definition is true – and I won’t argue with Einstein – then House Republicans have truly lost their minds.

This vote, like all of the previous ones, is bound to go nowhere. No parallel bill would have a chance of passing in the Democratically controlled Senate, and President Obama has said that he would veto the bill if it came to his desk. So why go through this exercise in futility?

ACA Cartoon

As Sarah Kliff reported recently in The Washington Post, there is a method to this seeming madness. It has to do with creating doubt in the public’s mind about the status of the Affordable Care Act. She cites a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation reporting that

kff-logoFour in ten Americans [are] unaware that the ACA is still the law of the land and is being implemented.

A more detailed breakdown of this figure shows that 7% of Americans think the Act has been overturned by the Supreme Court, 12% think Congress has repealed it, and another 23% are uncertain of its status.

These numbers suggest that continuing Republican criticism of the Act and ongoing attempts to repeal it lead people to believe the Act actually has been or should be repealed.

Kliff goes on to note recent academic studies that demonstrate this exact tendency.

[W]hen regulations seem like they might get repealed, people resist them aggressively. When the new restriction appears to be set in stone, however, [people try] to think through why the regulation isn’t, in fact, all that bad.

Kliff provides an example saying,

There was a great study on this phenomena last year that used speed limits as a restriction. It found that research subjects were generally okay with the new regulation, unless they were told there was a chance the city council would repeal it. Add that information in, and opinions about the law became significantly more negative.

So the tactic of holding 37 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act does not seem to be such a futile exercise after all. The politics of doubt shows that there is much to be gained by such a tactic.

Keeping media attention trained on attempts to repeal the Act – even if they are unsuccessful – creates increasing doubt in the public mind about the Act’s legitimacy. The more the Act is attacked in Congress, the more people come to believe that it should be repealed.

As Kliff states at the end of her article,

It’s easy to write off the repeal votes as inconsequential but from a policy standpoint they’re not.

Once planted, the seeds of doubt take on a life of their own.

Down at the Fishing Hole

Each day I scour my news feeds for important stories to comment on. I have been following the multiple Washington ‘scandals’ of the past week, trying to ferret out important background information and fit all the pieces together. There is a lot to dig into, and it’s hard work putting together insightful commentary.

 Today my sources led me to an excellent article by Robert A. Levine that sorts through the various narratives and provides the kind of balanced insight I have been trying to present in my own post. Sometimes it’s best to yield to a clearly superior analysis.

This is what I would have written if I had Levine’s outstanding skills. I am happy to repost it here.

House Fishing Expeditions- Looking to Hook a Big One

Robert A. Levine  5-21-13

 Robert A LevineThe House GOP refuses to let up. As long as they can keep potential scandals in the public eye by going fishing, they will keep at it. They’re hoping this will energize their base for the 2014 elections and keep the general public from focusing on the fact that important legislating is not getting done.

The questions are how long they will be able to keep these events at the top of the news before the electorate tires of the subjects (particularly if nothing substantial comes from Congressional hearings) and whether voters will realize that these efforts are merely politics at work. Americans may eventually understand that Republican screaming and yelling about these so-called scandals is merely to provide them with cover for lack of progress regarding substantial issues, such as reaching a budget agreement, passing immigration reform, background checks for gun control, and so forth.

The three subjects the GOP hopes will provide them with ammunition against Obama and the Democrats are Benghazi, the I.R.S. targeting of conservative groups, and the Justice Department’s seizure of the phone records of the Associated Press.

image704090x-300x225The way the State Department handled the attack on the American facility in Benghazi has been in the news for months with multiple Congressional hearings. It is still unclear whether any American forces could have been utilized to abort the attacks and save lives, with top military personnel seeming to indicate it would not have been possible. Evidently, there was in-fighting after the fact between the CIA and the State Department over who was to blame for the security lapses and inadequate protection for the Benghazi post. There was also fighting between the two agencies over the talking points given to Susan Rice and other administration spokes persons to try and defend the supervision and response to the incident. The Republicans are trying here to tar Hillary Clinton with incompetence over Benghazi to diminish her luster as a 2016 presidential candidate. They would also like to bring Obama down a peg as the Commander-in-Chief who did an inadequate job. Left out of the story is the fact that the Republican House refused to honor State Department appeals for more security personnel in a number of countries prior to Benghazi because of the cost.

As far as the I.R.S. targeting of conservative groups who were applying for 501(c)4 status, the I.R.S. was overwhelmed by the number of requests for this status after the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court in 2010. Some liberal groups looking for tax-exempt status were also targeted, but it appears on the surface that Tea Party and conservative groups were examined disproportionately. However, the Republican Congress had also denied funds for the I.R.S. to hire additional personnel believed to be necessary to deal with the Affordable Care Act and other tax matters prior to the problem with the 501(c)4 organizations. The House GOP in its investigations is hoping to find some sort of conspiracy against the Tea Party and conservatives orchestrated by Democrats in the Treasury Department, or perhaps in the White House itself. They are playing this up and comparing it to Watergate, with some saying that impeachment is a possibility. But they are really fishing here and if they had supplied enough funding for the I.R.S. to bring in additional personnel, this might never have happened.

The subpoenas of the AP records to try and plug security leaks raises questions about whether First Amendment rights of the press may have been breached and whether this will chill future government whistle-blowers. However, leaks and maintenance of security have always been Republican issues, and it is hypocritical for them to go after Attorney General Holder and the Democratic hierarchy at the Department of Justice for doing exactly what the Republicans themselves would have done if they had controlled the executive branch.

So are these issues of minor import being blown up by Republicans trying to make political hay? We shall see how the investigations unfold. But unless the House committees can find evidence connecting the I.R.S. personnel who scrutinized conservative groups to top Democratic Party figures, these so-called scandals will turn out to be cases of political overreaching by Republicans in advance of the 2014 mid-term elections. In Washington, everything is politics, including fishing.

Resurrecting Democracy

http://www.robertlevinebooks.com

7 Troublesome Facts about the Benghazi Investigation

Benghazi compoundRight-wing commentators have sought to demonstrate an extensive “cover-up” by the Obama administration of the Benghazi attacks in Libya last year. Fox News alone has devoted hundreds of hours to this supposed scandal in which 4 Americans, including the American Ambassador, died.

After 5 committees, 9 investigative hearings and 2 reports on the Benghazi events, Republicans are still looking for something conclusive to pin on the Obama administration. Here is what we have discovered so far:

1. The facts do not support claims of a cover-up.

Thomas+Pickering+Benghazi+Investigator+Pickering+bHPNXUTGEf1lThomas Pickering, the co-chair of the State Department’s Accountability Review Board on the Benghazi terror attacks, stated last week that the notion of a cover-up by the Obama administration “has all the elements of Pulitzer Prize fiction attached to it.” The Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Bob Corker (R-TN) also spoke out last week against the various conspiracy theories saying, “I feel like I know what happened in Benghazi. I’m fairly satisfied.” 

 2. The rhetoric is overblown.

Last week Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) stated in an interview, “Of all the great cover-ups in history — the Pentagon papers, Iran-Contra, Watergate, all the rest of them — this … is going to go down as most egregious cover-up in American history.” However, we should keep in mind that Watergate dealt with actual crimes committed by a president, and the Iran-Contra scandal dealt with the illegal sale of arms to Iran to finance a covert war in Nicaragua. These events are hardly comparable.

3. The investigation has become a political witch-hunt.

The Benghazi attack occurred in the closing days of the 2012 Presidential campaign and Republicans quickly used the incident to discredit Obama’s leadership. But the public did not abandon Obama as they had hoped and he was re-elected. Conservatives are still trying to use the incident to engineer Obama’s downfall.

JamesInhofeLast week Senator Inhofe echoed the hopes of many Republicans when he suggested the Benghazi investigation would lead to Obama’s impeachment. And former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee stated on his radio show that President Obama “will not fill out his full term” due to his role in the “cover-up.”

These claims are ill founded. As Eric Boehlert has commented,

[The investigation] isn’t just about Benghazi, or the four Americans who died in the attack or the dozens more injured. It’s about Obama and a blinding, uncontrollable anger that fuels his most dedicated foes, and their relentless, futile search for the American “aha” moment.

4. The criticism is heavily partisan.

American embassies were attacked by terrorists 11 times while George W. Bush was president, yet there were no outcries of unpreparedness or cover-up. In fact, US diplomatic missions have been attacked 44 times in the last 52 years with multiple American fatalities. There has never been furor like that directed against the Obama administration.

5. They are quibbling over details.

benghazi hearingThe repeated investigations have uncovered no major scandals. Republican efforts at faultfinding have been reduced to minor issues such as pouring over leaked “talking points” and language. It turns out that ABC’s reporting on the emails leaked to its reporter was based on inaccurate and misleading summaries  rather than the originals (which their reporter neglected to read). The original emails are much less controversial.

As for the debate over language, on Sunday Senator John McCain (R-AZ) asserted that right after the Benghazi attacks “The President didn’t call it an act of terror,” he only condemned “acts of terrorism.” This is mere quibbling and hardly the stuff of a major scandal.

6. The investigation is creating collateral damage.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that House Republicans are turning their attention to Thomas Pickering and retired Adm. Mike Mullen in a campaign to discredit their non-partisan report on the Benghazi attacks. But as Frank Hagler reports,

Republicans must be careful to not overstep their bounds in questioning the integrity of Pickering and Mullen. … [They] both have impeccable reputations. Pickering holds the personal rank of career ambassador, the highest in the United States Foreign Service, and has served for over 40 years under both Democratic and Republican administrations. Mullen is the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and served as the top military adviser to Obama and President George W. Bush. Any attempt to besmirch the reputation of these career heroes will surely backfire.

7. The long-range target is Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Hillary ClintonDemocrats have been quick to recognize that the investigation seems squarely aimed at damaging the former Secretary of State’s political future, particularly with regard to her possible run at the presidency in 2016. Ms. Clinton is currently the person most favoured to receive the Democratic nomination and is thought by many to be able to defeat most Republican candidates. The ploy that was unsuccessful in trying to ruin Obama’s chances of winning in 2012 is being retrained on Hillary Clinton and the 2016 elections.

Conclusion

As Frank Hagler writes,

Republicans run the real risk of overstepping their reach in this investigation. They believe they smell political blood in the water, but as they found out in the 2012 election, if they overreach and don’t focus on what’s important they run the risk of turning this into nothing more than a political circus. They need to slow down, rein in the loose cannons, take a deep breath, and be reminded that the goal is to bring the perpetrators to justice and implement solutions to prevent it from happening again.