“Notes On A Pseudo-Scandal”: With No Credibility On Issues, Republicans Demand For Scandal Is Intense And Unflagging
OK folks, if you have the patience for some meta-blogging on the subject of Benghazi, let me share with you some of the thoughts that have been running around my head as I struggle with how to talk about this story. Whenever a topic like this comes up, you have to ask yourself a couple of questions. Do I have something worthwhile to contribute to this discussion? Is there something that needs to be said but hasn’t been yet? Is this thing even worth talking about? Much as I’d like to be immune to the consideration of whether I’m doing a favor for those pushing the story for their own partisan ends by keeping the discussion going, it’s hard to avoid that question popping into your head from time to time.
There’s an objective reality out there, hard though it may sometimes be to discern—either there was or was not actual wrongdoing, and the whole matter is either trivial or momentous—but everyone’s perception of that reality is formed within the context of a partisan competition. Irrespective of any facts, Democrats would like this story to just go away, and Republicans would like it to become The Worst Scandal In History. I’ll be honest and say it’s hard to avoid thinking about that when you’re writing about it. Even doing something like refuting the latest crazy thing someone on the right is alleging does, to at least a small degree, help maintain the story’s momentum.
To step back to the big picture, a “scandal” can proceed regardless of whether any wrongdoing is ever found. If you have your own media system, you can keep talking about it (combined with, always always always, accusations that the mainstream media are ignoring it not because of a reasonable news judgment but because of their liberal bias) until the mainstream media start doing their own reporting on it, pushing the story ahead. This is a routine conservative media are practiced at, and they seem to be having some success yet again. If you have control of one house of Congress, furthermore, you can start investigations and hold hearings, which may not uncover anything incriminating, but it creates news events and produces information, which can be spun to be something nefarious even if it’s utterly mundane.
For instance, conservatives continue to froth at the mouth over whether a set of talking points the administration produced contained the words “terrorism” or “Islamic extremists” or “extremists,” as though one answer means everything was above-board and another answer means there was a cover-up so sinister that impeaching the president is the obvious response. You may be shocked to learn that talking points on national security matters are routinely edited by representatives of different agencies! Or maybe you’re not shocked, but just in case, Republicans are going to act as though it’s shocking. If you’re an Obama partisan, the fact that your opponents think that the key to the President’s undoing will be found in some Microsoft Word “track changes” should make you feel pretty secure, since those opponents are plainly a bunch of buffoons.
Trouble is, that may not stop the “scandal” from continuing to generate momentum. Brendan Nyhan just put out a paper in which he posits a theory of scandals, arguing that they are a “co-production” of the media and the opposition party. Specifically, the less popular a president is with the opposing party, the more likely a scandal is to emerge.Other factors have an impact as well, including competing news stories, the time a president has been in office, and the time since the last scandal. This is essentially what Jamelle noted yesterday, that while there may not be much of a supply of actual Obama administration wrongdoing, the demand for scandal on the right is intense and unflagging. That demand is met by the conservative media, whose coverage pushes Republican lawmakers to get involved, which generates more coverage, which generates more demand in the Republican rank and file, and on and on.
I hesitate to even use the word “scandal” to describe Benghazi, because so far we haven’t learned of anything scandalous anyone did. Conservatives themselves don’t seem to be able to say exactly what the Obama administration is supposed to have done wrong, particularly since lethal attacks on American diplomatic mission are a frequent occurrence, even under Republican administrations. “Talking points were edited to make the attack sound less terrorist-y” isn’t exactly a high crime. “Some different decisions in those first chaotic hours might have made a difference” isn’t much of an indictment either; that’s always true of any tragedy. Yes, there are some people on the right who will speculate that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton actually said, “Go ahead and let those people in Benghazi die, because even though we could save their lives, doing so might harm our re-election, so screw ‘em.” But those people are obviously nuts, and everybody knows it.
It may well be that, as it was during the Clinton years, even many of the people pushing the alleged scandal realize there’s not much to it, but they find political utility in keeping the president under siege. If he’s worried about this, he’ll have less time to devote to his other priorities. Spend tens of millions investigating a failed land deal, and even if you don’t find that he did anything wrong there, maybe along the way you’ll discover that he got a blow job from an intern.
As reluctant as I am to feed that beast, in the end I suspect they’ll be punished for their obsession with Benghazi, assuming that they fail, just as they have so far, to uncover any actual wrongdoing. And that’ll happen whether people like me write about it or not.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 10, 2013
A confluence of events appears to have created a curious new talking point on the right. With former President George W. Bush’s library set to open, and last week’s Boston Marathon bombing still very much on the public’s mind, Republican pundits see value in trying to tie the two together in the hopes of improving Bush’s reputation.
The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, for example, published this gem yesterday:
“Unlike Obama’s tenure, there was no successful attack on the homeland after 9/11.”
A few hours later on Fox News, Eric Bolling echoed the sentiment.
“I will tell one thing, from you 9/12/01 until the time President Obama raised his right hand January of ’09, the man kept us safe. And there — you certainly can’t say that since President Obama has taken the oath of office.”
When it comes to Bolling, I should note that this is an improvement from his previous stance. Two years ago, he suggested on the air that he didn’t recall 9/11 at all: “America was certainly safe between 2000 and 2008. I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that period of time.”
I should also note that neither Rubin nor Bolling seemed to be kidding. Their comments weren’t satirical or jokes intended to make Republicans appear silly.
As for the substance, there are three main angles to keep in mind. The first is the bizarre assertion that President Obama somehow deserves the blame for the bomb that killed three people in Boston last week, because he didn’t “keep us safe.” The argument reflects a child-like understanding of national security and is absurd on its face.
Second, though the right likes to pretend otherwise, there were terrorist attacks during Bush/Cheney’s tenure — after 9/11 — that shouldn’t be ignored. Indeed, it’s a little tiresome to hear Republicans argue in effect, “Other than the deadly anthrax attacks, the attack against El Al ticket counter at LAX, the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.”
And finally, I’m not sure Republican pundits have fully thought through the wisdom of the “other than 9/11″ argument.
Bush received an intelligence briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, at which he was handed a memo with an important headline: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.”
Bush, however, was on a month-long vacation at the time. He heard the briefer out and replied, “All right. You’ve covered your ass, now.” A month later, al Qaeda killed 3,000 people.
For Rubin and Bolling, the response is, in effect, “Yeah, but other than that, he kept us safe.” The problem, of course, is that’s roughly the equivalent of saying other than that iceberg, the Titanic had a pleasant voyage. Other than that one time, Pompeii didn’t have to worry about the nearby volcano. Other than Booth, Lincoln enjoyed his evening at Ford’s Theater.
It is, in other words, a little more difficult to airbrush catastrophic events from history.
I can appreciate the zeal with which Republican pundits want to rehabilitate Bush’s poor standing, but they’ll have to do better than this.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 24, 2013
This land was made for you and me.
–Woody Guthrie, 1944
For what it’s worth, almost everybody in Arkansas who can find Massachusetts on a road map was appalled by state Rep. Nate Bell’s grotesquely inappropriate Twitter post. (Of course not everybody can, but that’s a different issue.) At the height of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers, the Mena Republican informed the world, “I wonder how many Boston liberals spent the night cowering in their homes wishing they had an AR-15 with a hi-capacity magazine?”
Reaction from New England was swift, often witty and rarely polite. “Go put on a pair of shoes and fry me up some squirrel, Gomer,” my pal Charles Pierce wrote on his Esquire blog. In a post entitled “Bite Me,” he urged readers to remind Bell “that God loves him as he loves all mouthy hicks.” Joe Koehane, the Boston-bred columnist, was less circumspect: “Might want to take a flight up north and try saying that in person, you waterheaded, little-d**k hillbilly a**hole.”
Note to Nate: Anybody who thinks Boston’s a city of Perrier-sipping pantywaists has clearly spent no time there. It didn’t help that in photos, Bell looks less like a Navy Seal than a guy who’s never personally assaulted anything more lethal than the buffet table down at the Squat n’ Gobble Barbecue Shack. Many Bostonians speculated that his fondness for big guns originated in less-than-robust manliness. Southerners are sometimes surprised to learn that when provoked, New Englanders remember the Civil War too—particularly the Irish.
Back home, Arkansans long sensitive to being caricatured as ignorant hayseeds urged Bell to resign. My sainted wife, a lifelong Arkansan (apart from our three long-ago years in Massachusetts), summed things up wearily. “Oh my God,” she said. “He’s just pathetic.”
It’s merely ironic that “redneck” remains the last socially-acceptable ethnic slur in American life. Fools like Rep. Bell help make it so. It’s a wonder the Arkansas Chamber of Commerce or the Parks & Tourism people didn’t have him kidnapped and transported to Mississippi.
Then after the big dope said he was sorry for the unfortunate “timing” of his remarks, Davy Carter, the Speaker of the Arkansas House, and also a Republican, had the decency to post a proper apology:
“On behalf of the Arkansas House of Representatives and the state of Arkansas, I want to extend my deepest apologies to the people of the City of Boston and the state of Massachusetts for the inappropriate and insensitive comment made this morning by an Arkansas House member. I can assure the people of Boston and the people of Massachusetts that Arkansans have them in their thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”
Of course they do.
Indeed, if there’s any good to come from evil acts like the Boston Marathon bombing, it’s to remind Americans that the things binding us together as a people far outweigh our differences. In all the rage and sorrow, the words that rang truest to me came from the bombers’ immigrant uncle Ruslan Tsarni and a baseball player from the Dominican Republic.
Uncle Ruslan spoke with rare passion. He urged his surviving nephew Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to turn himself in and beg forgiveness. Maybe he needn’t have said that his brother’s sons had shamed and embarrassed all Chechen immigrants, because we don’t do—or we’re not supposed to do—collective racial and ethnic guilt here in America. But anybody who grew up with first- and second-generation immigrant families knows exactly where he was coming from. Better to hear it raw than listen to mealy-mouthed apologetics on MSNBC.
Uncle Ruslan allowed his nephews no excuses. He found their alleged religious motives fraudulent and contemptible. More than that, he spoke in terms of bedrock Americanism common to Boston, Little Rock and his Maryland home. He said he teaches his own children that the United States is the best country in the world. “I love this country which gives (everybody) a chance to be treated as a human being.”
And then came Big Papi, David Ortiz, a beloved bear of a man who briefly addressed a Fenway Park crowd after a pregame memorial service. Gesturing to his chest, Ortiz pointed out in Spanish-accented English that on that day his uniform shirt didn’t say Red Sox.
“It says Boston,” he said. ““This is our f***ing city, and nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”
Expletive and all, he said what everybody felt. The crowd erupted in a spontaneous roar.
Sitting halfway across the country in front of a TV set at my home on a gravel road in darkest Arkansas, I have to tell you, I damn near cried.
By: Gene Lyons, The National Memo, April 24, 2013
The United States faces many grave challenges, such as declining living standards, global warming, rogue nuclear regimes, gun violence and now domestic terrorism. But none are as fundamental as or more pressing than the decline of democracy.
Last week’s vote in the United States Senate to defeat a proposal for more thorough background checks for gun buyers is the new poster child for popular disgust with Congress. It’s been 125 days since the massacre in Newton, Connecticut. 20 kids and six adults lost their lives and Congress hasn’t done a thing to curb gun violence.
The president has certainly done his part and more. A clear majority of Americans favor a ban on assault weapons, but Senators ignored their constituencies. (57 percent favor-41 percent oppose, ABC News/Washington Post). Even worse, nine of ten people favor background checks for gun purchases but Congress couldn’t even get that right. (91 percent, ABC News/Washington Post.)
Even if the Senate had passed the background check proposal it would have almost certainly failed in the House of Representatives, which the National Rifle Association owns gun lock, gun stock and gun barrel. The founders created the House of Representatives as the “peoples’ house,” but that was long ago and far away. Last year, Democratic House candidates won a majority of the vote but Republicans harvested the majority of seats.
Right now fewer than one in five Americans gives Congress a positive job rating. (18 percent, Gallup). The abject failure of Congress to respond to the public’s concern about rampant gun violence means that grade will get even lower. The questions are how low Congressional approval can go and how long democracy can endure when one of the three branches of the federal government is completely unresponsive to the public it should represent.
Gun control isn’t the only area of concern in which Congress is completely clueless. Seven out of ten Americans favor an increase in the minimum wage to $9.25 but that won’t even get a vote in the GOP dominated House (71 percent, Gallup). Less than one out of every five people favor cuts in Medicare and Social Security, but both the president and congressional Republicans want to hack at health care and pensions for seniors (18 percent, CBS News).
Why is Congress able to ignore public opinion? Because it can do anything it wants with the financial backing of corporate America. Forty two of the forty five U.S. Senators who voted against background checks received campaign contributions from the NRA. Data from the Center for Responsive Politics shows that corporate America donated $1.3 billion to party committees and politicians last year.
That figure does not include the money that corporations spend in independent expenditure campaigns. The corporate money in the 2012 campaign dwarfed the contributions from labor unions. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that corporations prosper while the standard of living for working families continues to decline.
An unresponsive Congress isn’t the only challenge to democracy. The right to vote has steadily expanded all through history, except in late 19th century Jim Crow America. In the early days of our republic, only white men with property enjoyed suffrage. By the 1830′s all white men got the right to vote. Women finally received their due in 1920. And except for a few years right after the Civil War, the vote came for many black Americans only 50 years ago.
Now, Republican governors and state legislators want to roll back the clock and the tide of American history by finding ingenious ways to prevent black and Latino voters from fully enjoying their rights as citizens.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote his famous treatise celebrating our great democracy, “Democracy in America,” in 1824. If he had written the book today, the title would be either “Democracy in America?”, “Democracy in Decline” or even “Democracy at Death’s Door.” I’m optimistic that democracy can revive itself, but it will take a lot of work and a lot of commitment from Americans who take their freedom for granted.
In post-Citizens United America, corporations are people, politicians are bought and people are peasants. The U.S. faced the same problem late in the 19th century when U.S. Senators represented companies rather than their constituents. But democracy survived and the excesses of the gilded age led to a renewal of economic populism during the presidencies of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. The sooner that happens, the better off we all will be.
By: Brad Bannon, U. S. News and World Report, April 22, 2013
“Who’s Doing The Terrorizing?”: Lindsey Graham Pulls A Page Straight Out Of The Bush-Cheney Playbook
Apparently on Friday, before Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was apprehended, Sen. Lindsey Graham was already torquing up the hysteria by taking the position that Tsarnaev not receive his Miranda warning before being interrogated. Graham–who, not to imply anything from this, is one of those lucky men who can go into any barbershop and the get the exact look he wants simply by saying, “I’d like the Adolf Hitler haircut”–tweeted “If captured I hope [the] Administration will at least consider holding the Boston suspect as [an] enemy combatant for intelligence gathering purposes.” He then added “The last thing we may want to do is read Boston suspect Miranda Rights telling him to ‘remain silent.’”
The Brothers Tsarnaev will never be known as anything but terrorists, but Boston certainly doesn’t look like a town that has been terrorized to me. Defiant? Sure. Inspired? Definitely. There’s a kind of a civic euphoria arising from the realization that town came through this blow with strength and intelligence and courage. From the first responders on Monday, to the individuals who opened their homes to stranded runners, to the full-throated expression of patriotism that infused the way Bruins fans sang the national anthem, to an exemplary performance by the law enforcement authorities, Boston has a lot to be proud of. They don’t look terrorized to me.
It’s the Lindsey Grahams who are terrorizing people by suggesting that this threat maybe might possibly be so enormous that we have to deny Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his rights as an American citizen. This is a page straight out of the Bush-Cheney playbook, the idea that we have to start throwing away our most important values and traditions in order to be secure.
It’s nonsense. Denying Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his rights won’t improve my safety. Let’s face it: if I really wanted to improve my safety, I would lose twenty pounds.
By: Jamie Malanowski, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 21, 2013