Regular readers may recall that I’ve long been fascinated by the trouble President Obama’s detractors have had with understanding what it is about him they dislike. The result is a series of rhetorical attacks that are incoherent and contradictory.
He’s a ruthless Chicago thug and a “wuss.” He’s a bystander who goes golfing too much and an activist president who engages too much. He’s sticking to the Bush/Cheney script on national security and he’s putting us at risk by abandoning the Bush/Cheney national security agenda. He’s cutting cherished entitlement programs like Medicare and he refuses to cut entitlement programs like Medicare. He’s waging a class war against the rich and he’s coddling millionaires.
This week, as much of the political world tries to stick to the dubious line that the White House is engulfed in scandals, we’re seeing the same phenomenon once more. Greg Sargent makes a nice catch this afternoon:
One current storyline has it that all of these stories could converge to create a sense that Obama’s embrace of government activism has shaded into Nixonian abuses of power — revealing that Obama personally harbors a far more intrusive, overbearing, and even sinister approach to governing than he previously let on.
But another current storyline has it that the White House’s pushback on these scandals — the claims of a firewall between the Justice Department and the White House, the assertions of no connection to the IRS abuses — reveal a president who is weak and unable to control the government he presides over.
Good point. Just today, the Washington Post reports that the recent uproars “add evidence” to detractors’ claims that President Obama is a power-hungry leader who “has not acted within the constraints of the Constitution.” And also today, the New York Times reports that the controversies that have captured the Beltway’s attention present President Obama as a helpless “onlooker” who seems unable to “use his office.”
Greg added, “Obviously, these narratives can’t both be true at once. The scandals can’t demonstrate that Obama’s true dictatorial streak has finally been revealed while simultaneously supporting the idea that they’ve shown him to be too weak to control a government that has run amok.”
Ordinarily, I give the “pick a narrative and go with it” advice to the president’s Republican detractors, but in this case, it seems more appropriate to remind pundits and the political media establishment that their own preconceived narratives are just as contradictory.
Indeed, in this case, the critiques are especially incoherent since the so-called “scandals” generating so much chatter about “a White House in crisis” don’t actually relate much to the White House. None of the stories — Benghazi, the IRS, AP subpoenas — points to a tyrannical dictator or a hapless onlooker.
To connect three disparate stories of varying degrees of legitimacy and importance into a mega-scandal is lazy. So, too, is the embrace of competing narratives that cancel each other out.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, May 16, 2013
The surest sign that there is indeed no there there regarding the Benghazi “scandal”? The fact that anonymous GOP staff feeding information to reporters apparently felt the need to edit the White House emails they were onpassing. It’s a bad sign for scandal-mongerers if they feel the need to punch up their supposed evidence.
At issue is the email document trail behind the talking points the administration promulgated in the days after the September 11, 2012 attack at the U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya. Since virtually the first instant of the attack, the GOP has fixated on it as being sort of a scandal, with the currently popular iteration suggesting that the initial administration spin was an effort to cover up the fact that terrorist elements were involved in the attacks.
Last week a Republican operative or operatives leaked what were portrayed as quotes from emails – which the White House had not released – which purported to show that the White House and State Department had nefariously pushed to have references to terrorist involvement expunged from the administration’s talking points.
But on Wednesday the White House released 100 pages of the emails covering the evolution of the talking points (scroll to the bottom to read them yourself, courtesy of the Huffington Post). Then CBS News’ Major Garrett issued a report last night under the headline “WH Benghazi emails have different quotes than earlier reported.” Garrett goes on to detail the differences between the leaked GOP versions of the emails and what was actually written.
On Friday, Republicans leaked what they said was a quote from Rhodes: “We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation.”
But it turns out that in the actual email, Rhodes did not mention the State Department.
It read: “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.”
He goes on to note a similar change in an email then-State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland sent. The GOP version has her worried about “previous warnings provided by the Agency (CIA) about al-Qaeda’s presence and activities of al-Qaeda.” But the actual email she sent doesn’t mention the terrorist group at all.
As the Huffington Post reports, CBS isn’t the first news outlet to note the differences between the real emails and the versions leaked by Republicans:
The news parallels a Tuesday CNN report which initially introduced the contradiction between what was revealed in a White House Benghazi email version, versus what was reported in media outlets. On Monday, Mother Jones noted that the Republicans’ interim report included the correct version of the emails, signaling that more malice and less incompetence may have been at play with the alleged alterations.
Of course, there’s no reason why malice and incompetence need be competing alternatives. In fact incompetent malice seems likely: This was a ham handed attempt to produce “evidence” of a scandal where there is none.
Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum sums up:
This has always been the Republican Party’s biggest risk with this stuff: that they don’t know when to quit. On Benghazi, when it became obvious that they didn’t have a smoking gun, they got desperate and tried to invent one. On the IRS, their problem is that Democrats are as outraged as they are. This will force them to make ever more outrageous accusations in an effort to find some way to draw a contrast. And on the AP phone records, they have to continually dance around the fact that they basically approve of subpoenas like this.
A sane party would take a deep breath and decide to move on to other things. But the tea partiers have the scent of blood now, and it’s driving them crazy. Thus the spectacle of Michele Bachmann suggesting today that it’s time to start impeachment proceedings.
It’s no wonder that GOP leaders are urging their colleagues to throttle back and let the scandals that flared up this week play out before, like Bachmann, calling for impeachment hearings. The real scandal regarding Benghazi, of course, doesn’t involve talking points but funding streams. As former diplomat Ronan Farrow writes in the Atlantic:
Hillary Clinton waged a losing fight with Congress for embassy security resources over the course of the first Obama administration. Some of the ringleaders of last week’s hearing were among the prominent opponents to that spending, with Representative Chaffetz and Representative Darrell Issa joining to cut nearly half a billion dollars from the State Department security accounts that cover armored vehicles, security systems, and guards. In Fiscal Year 2011, House Republicans cut $128 million from the Obama Administration’s requests for embassy security funding; in 2012, they cut another $331 million. Issa once personally voted to cut almost 300 diplomatic security positions. In 2011, after one of many fruitless trips to the Hill to beg House Republicans for resources, an exhausted, prophetic Hillary Clinton warned that cuts to embassy spending “will be detrimental to America’s national security.” Democrats, like Senator Barbara Boxer in a heated speech this week, have been quick to paint opposition to security funding as exclusively Republican. The truth is, it is a bipartisan failure, repeated through years of both Republican and Democratic control of Congress. In 2010, Democrats cut $142 million from the Administration’s requests for State Department funding.
But why would House Republicans – obsessed as they are with their twin goals of getting Obama and Hillary Clinton and cutting spending – pursue an investigation into dangerous spending cuts pushed by Congress and fought by Secretary Clinton?
http://www.docstoc.com/docs/156800521/White-House-Documents-Relating-to-Events-in-Benghazi-Libya -Courtesy The Huffington Post
By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, May 17, 2013
CNN’s Jake Tapper has managed to get his hands on the critical White House email suggested as the proof that the White House was more interested in removing references to possible terrorist attacks in the now infamous Benghazi talking points then they were in telling the truth to the American public.
The actual email, written in the days following the Benghazi attack, reveals something else entirely. We now know that whoever leaked the contents of the email to various media outlets last week seriously misquoted the document, choosing to paraphrase the content in a way that made it appear that the White House was focused on protecting the State Department’s back and covering up information.
Recall that ABC News fueled the GOP cries of a White House cover-up when suggesting that the twelve drafts of the talking points were done with White House participation as part of an effort by the Obama Administration to back up State Department requests that references to terrorist groups be omitted from the talking points.
Here is the relevant portion of the ABC story:
“In an email dated 9/14/12 at 9:34 p.m. -three days after the attack and two days before Ambassador Rice appeared on the Sunday shows – Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote an email saying the State Department’s concerns needed to be addressed. (ABC then quotes the email as saying…)“We must make sure that the talking points reflect all agency equities, including those of the State Department, and we don’t want to undermine the FBI investigation. We thus will work through the talking points tomorrow morning at the Deputies Committee meeting.”
The thing is, it turns out that the actual email tells a very different tale.
Here is the actual content of the email, as written by deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes—
Sorry to be late to this discussion. We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation.
“There is a ton of wrong information getting out into the public domain from Congress and people who are not particularly informed. Insofar as we have firmed up assessments that don’t compromise intel or the investigation, we need to have the capability to correct the record, as there are significant policy and messaging ramifications that would flow from a hardened mis-impression.
“We can take this up tomorrow morning at deputies.”
You can read the actual email here.
Obviously, the email reveals absolutely no effort on the part of the administration to whitewash the message regarding the possible involvement of organized terrorist groups. The email further does not, in any way, seek to support any efforts by the State Department—or anyone else—in terms of favoring one set of message points over another, including any suggestions of removing references to known terrorist groups in the region.
What the email does do is highlight the importance of countering the misinformation that had been circulating and getting all involved on the same page when it comes to sharing what was known to be accurate information.
Does anyone have a problem with that?
Or, should I say, does anyone other than Congressman Darrell Issa, Speaker John Boehner and all of those who wish to manufacture a scandal in the effort to harm this White House have a problem with that?
As Jake Tapper notes it in his article, “Whoever provided those quotes and paraphrases did so inaccurately, seemingly inventing the notion that Rhodes wanted the concerns of the State Department specifically addressed. Rhodes put no emphasis at all in his email on the State Department’s concerns.”
Greg Sargent follows up on this in his piece in the Washington Post—confirming what I noted yesterday with regard to this entire affair looking more and more like a conflict between the State Department and the CIA—
“It’s increasingly clear that this was merely a bureaucratic turf war at work, in which State wanted to get rid of the CIA’s efforts to insert into the talking points stuff that preempts blame against the agency. This new revelation from Tapper takes this even further — it suggests the administration didn’t even prioritize State’s demands and was simply looking to get agencies on the same page to prevent the spreading of misinformation.”
Clearly, someone is funneling false information to certain media outlets that are all too anxious to produce the kind of ‘scoops’ that get headlines—even if these scoops are far from accurate.
Equally clear is that Congressman Issa has built much of his case on a mountain of misinformation and poorly crafted speculation, all designed to serve the political and personal agenda that Issa has been itching to fulfill ever since ascending to the Chairmanship of the House Oversight Committee.
Darrell Issa wants very badly for you to know his name. If ginning up a false scandal is what it takes, that certainly works for the California congressman as he has tried to do it before only to see his efforts crumble beneath that very same mountain of misinformation and false speculation.
Unfortunately for Issa—and his many friends who have gone on record suggesting that Benghazi will lead to an Obama impeachment— with every bit of actual data that emerges, one thing is becoming clear—
Those politicos and pundits more interested in bringing down a president than they are in protecting those serving our country around the world from suffering a Benghazi repeat are being exposed for exactly what they will inevitably be found out to be….
All talk and no stick.
By: Rick Ungar, Op-Ed Contributor, Forbes, May 14, 2013
As promised, President Obama sent Congress his budget for the 2014 fiscal year this morning, and there’s just enough in it to make everyone unhappy from a variety of directions.
Republicans won’t like everything about this plan that makes it progressive: it expands Medicaid, undoes sequestration cuts while ignoring Paul Ryan’s demands to slash public investments, pursues a universal-preschool initiative though new tobacco taxes, expands the Earned Income Tax Credit, invests another $50 billion in job-creating infrastructure, gives a big boost to federal R&D, and takes away breaks for Big Oil.
Democrats won’t like everything about this plan that makes it conservative: it includes additional Medicare reforms, it adopts chained-CPI to lower Social Security benefits, and it focuses more on the spending side of the ledger than the revenue side. On a fundamental level, Obama’s budget starts in the middle, rather than the left, making negotiations that much more difficult.
Today’s budget is the White House’s effort to reach the bedrock of the fiscal debate. Half of its purpose is showing what they’re willing to do. They want a budget compromise, and this budget proves it. There are now liberals protesting on the White House lawn. But the other half is revealing what the GOP is — or, more to the point, isn’t — willing to do. Republicans don’t want a budget compromise, and this budget is likely to prove that, too.
As the White House sees it, there are two possible outcomes to this budget. One is that it actually leads to a grand bargain, either now or in a couple of months. Another is that it proves to the press and the public that Republican intransigence is what’s standing in the way of a grand bargain.
So, which of these two outcomes is more likely?
I think the smart money is on the latter. The president has called every GOP bluff and put his cards on the table — Republicans said Obama wouldn’t have the guts to go after entitlements and isn’t tough enough to risk the ire of his base. And now we know these assumptions were wrong — the president has presented a White House budget that includes the very entitlement “reforms” GOP leaders asked for, and liberals are furious.
It is, in other words, “put up or shut up” time. Republicans, out of excuses, can either meet Obama half-way or they’ll be exposed as craven. And if the last several years are any indication, GOP lawmakers will chose the latter without a moment’s thought.
Indeed, as Greg Sargent noted, congressional Republican leaders have already spent the afternoon arguing that Obama should simply give the GOP what it wants, and abandon the Democratic priorities, reinforcing the perception that Republicans still do not yet understand the difference between an offer and a gift.
In fact, I should mention that I received an email the other day from a long-time reader asking why I don’t seem more worked up about chained-CPI. The reader asked whether I support it (I don’t) and whether I’ve been relatively quiet about it out of some ideological or partisan predisposition.
I’ll tell you what I told him: I’m not worked up about it because I don’t see the scenario in which Republicans get chained-CPI by giving Obama hundreds of billions of new revenue. It’s easy to remain detached about a bad idea that seems highly unlikely to go anywhere. As Kevin Drum added today, “I don’t doubt that Obama’s offer is sincere, but it doesn’t matter. Republicans aren’t going to take it. Obama will get his proof that Republicans simply aren’t willing to negotiate seriously, and who knows? Maybe it will do him some good. But that’s all he’ll get.”
For me, the more interesting question is how the political world will process these developments when they occur. The Beltway said Obama needed to reach out to Republicans, so he reached out to Republicans. The Beltway said Obama needed to schmooze Republicans in a more personal way, so he did that, too. The Beltway said Obama needed to be willing to alienate his own supporters, and the president’s base has been duly outraged. The Beltway said Obama needed to put Medicare and Social Security on the table, and they’re on the table.
Will pundits who continue to blame “both sides” for partisan gridlock look ridiculous in the coming months? I sure as hell hope so.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 10, 2013
The Beltway’s interest in the role of sequestration cuts leading to canceled White House tours reached farcical heights last week, in large part because congressional Republicans are afraid the scrapped tourist opportunities will make them look bad.
But leave it to House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to go completely over the top.
For those who can’t watch clips online, Issa released an attack video this morning, presumably paid for with our tax dollars, whining once more about the White House tours. The message of the attack itself is rather odd — Issa apparently believes the cancelation of tours will give the president more leisure time, though that really doesn’t make any sense — and comes across as rather desperate, even by House GOP standards.
But what’s especially amazing about this case is Issa’s bizarre priorities. For reasons I can’t understand, the far-right Republican is fascinated by White House tours, but seems entirely indifferent to the meaningful effects of sequestration in his own congressional district.
A Democratic source this morning alerted me to several recent headlines from the area Issa ostensibly represents:
* A rally was held in San Diego last week to “demonstrate the impact of sequestration on low income seniors.” An administrator at a local facility said, “[B]ack in D.C. what they’re talking about are cuts from White House tours and the president’s golf game but in the meantime real seniors who are hungry are not going to have food.”
* A major employer in San Diego announced a series of layoffs, effecting 185 workers, which became necessary “as a result of the cuts being brought about in the federal budget because of sequestration.”
* The sequester is set to shutter an air-control traffic tower in San Diego, which local officials believe will “jeopardize aerial firefighting in a region prone to wildfire.”
All of this is happening in Darrell Issa’s own hometown, and he’s focusing his attention on White House tours? I can’t remember the last time I saw a congressman so indifferent to the effects of a policy on his own community.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2013