WASHINGTON, May 13, 2013 – The hearings last week on the Benghazi attacks marked a new low for the Republican Party. Congressmen struggled to inject a bizarre far-right conspiracy theory into the political mainstream without discrediting themselves by describing their underlying narrative out loud.
The hearings took on the quality of a mime, or charade.
Watching the spectacle, you expected that any minute a Congressman would lean over to a side camera, cover his mouth and whisper “Psst…You see, Obama wants the Muslims to take over!”
What elevates this series of Congressional witch-hunts from mere incompetence to dereliction of duty is the way it has smothered productive inquiry into the Administration’s very real mismanagement. By deciding to perform show-trials to entertain the GOP’s hysterical base, Congressional Republicans have abandoned policy issues that actually matter. That’s the scandal we watched unfold last week on television.
There are at least three broadly agreed areas where the Obama Administration, through neglect, short-sightedness, or even incompetence, has severely damaged national interests. None of them have been thoroughly explored or addressed.
For starters, the Obama Administration’s surprisingly aggressive treatment of government whistleblowers has stifled efforts at accountability. The situation was bad under President Bush, but under Obama whistleblowers are actually going to prison. This campaign against “leaks” comes from an Administration touting an agenda of transparency and openness.
Second, there is the Administration’s refusal to develop a legally supported framework for its campaign of targeted killings. US policy on overseas assassinations, including the killing of US citizens, has been developed in secret, without Congressional oversight and with only the thinnest legal foundation. The Obama Administration has resisted efforts by Congress to review the policies, disclosing them only to Congressional intelligence committees under the protection of secrecy.
Yes, Republicans have made an issue of drone strikes, but only amid the fog of conspiracy and paranoia. Congress writes the nation’s laws and could legislate in this area, but that avenue has not been pursued with any seriousness.
There is great significance in Senator Rand Paul’s thirteen-hour ramble on targeted killings. It was unconnected from any process to develop policy around the subject. It was part of a filibuster rather than an effort to actually legislate. And it was engineered to obstruct an unrelated matter of day to day government administration. That’s the state of Republican opposition in a nutshell.
The Administration’s most miserable failure may be the catastrophic effort to automate Veterans’ Administration records. Congress has devoted billions of dollars of new spending to an effort to streamline benefits claims. Under the Obama Administration, the backlog for processing those claims has increased by 2000%. Claim delays average more than 270 days and some cases stretch to well over a year.
These disturbing failures cast doubt on the Administration’s vision of itself, suggesting that the Obama Administration, for all its talk of transformation and openness, is in fact a mess. Unfortunately, these scandals share three characteristics that make them unsuitable to attract Republican interest:
1) They are real, with actual documents, testimony and other supporting evidence
The problem with real world scandals is that there are firm limits to their scope. Claims based on evidence rather than speculation are constrained by that evidence. The problems at the Veterans Administration are terrible, but they don’t, for example, provide the missing proof that Obama wants to impose Sharia Law on America. So why bother?
2) They are complex and non-ideological
The Administration’s handling of targeting killings, for example, is disturbing but there is no simple solution. These practices were begun under Bush, replacing earlier tactics that were less effective and more costly. These are not fundamentally ideological issues, but administrative matters. Administration would require tough choices, analysis, and compromise on issues that could have lasting impact. That’s not going to happen in this climate.
3) They fail to support a cartoon-villain narrative about Obama
There’s no big win in demonstrating the White House’s administrative ineptitude. Evil geniuses are not inept. Sure, these inquiries might provide opportunities to improve government – what Congressional hearings are supposed to do – but politics on the right ceased to be about governing a long time ago. The only scandal worth investigating is one that can feed right-wing paranoia.
If it won’t sell gold coins, it’s a waste of airtime.
With a little effort Republicans could build a powerful bipartisan block of lawmakers to bring decisive pressure on the White House to address these and other issues. Such a coalition would also be in a position to enact new legislation that could help resolve these problems.
That’s not what the Republicans in Congress were sent to Washington to do. That’s the dark conspiracy exposed by Scandalgate.
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