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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

You say potato and I say potahto,
You say tomato and I say tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto:
Let’s call the whole thing off.

–George and Ira Gershwin

Here’s how unreal the Great Benghazi Scandal had already grown as of last year. Washington Post fact checker Glenn Kessler devoted an entire May 2013 column to the scholastic question of whether President Obama’s calling the Sept. 11, 2012 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya an “act of terror” was the same as calling it an “act of terrorism,” as he’d recently claimed.

Kessler pondered the deep semantic differences between the two phrases before awarding Obama a full four “Pinocchios,” signifying a “whopper.” Seriously. That’s the big cover-up House Republicans pretend they’re outraged about.

Obama’s exact words, from the White House Rose Garden on the day after the attack that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his security team:

No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for. Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.

So who was Obama trying to deceive? People who hadn’t seen the smoking ruins on TV? And about what? Kessler doesn’t say. Only that the two phrases don’t signify precisely the same thing — a distinction without a difference in any realistic political context.

It will be recalled that GOP nominee Mitt Romney executed one of the clumsiest pratfalls in presidential debate history for mistakenly challenging Obama on this exact point. Had the president, or had he not, described the Benghazi disaster as an “act of terror?”

Obama cooly urged his rival to consult the transcript. In fact, he’d used the phrase several times. Had the Washington political press not had so much invested in a “cliffhanger” election narrative, Romney’s blunder would have been compared to President Gerald Ford’s denying Soviet influence in Poland during a 1976 debate with Jimmy Carter.

But then this is the great mystery confronting non-initiates in the great GOP Benghazi cult. What on earth are these people going on about? That if Obama had said “act of terrorism” instead of “act of terror,” Americans would have punished his failure to eliminate jihadists from the face of the earth by turning to Mitt “47 percent” Romney?

That everything would be different if UN Ambassador Susan Rice had cast aside White House “talking points” about inflammatory videos on the Sunday political chat shows and candidly confessed that “[w]hether they were al Qaeda affiliates, whether they were Libyan-based extremists or al Qaeda itself…is one of the things we’ll have to determine?”

Because those were Rice’s exact words, block copied from the transcript of CBS’s Sept. 16, 2012 Face the Nation broadcast in response to a direct question from Bob Schieffer about al Qaeda involvement.

Everybody now pretends she named no terrorist groups, for the sake of keeping the make-believe scandal alive.

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