You’d think they’d never seen a scandal before.
Like the nerd hero of some R-rated sex comedy who suddenly finds himself alone with a willing girl for the first time, some on the Republican right are giddy, hyperventilating and acting a little goofy at the troubles now plaguing Team Obama. Not that one can’t understand their eagerness. It must feel like Wile E. Coyote finally nailing that bleeping Road Runner after years of Acme product failures. Similarly, after years of trying to manufacture scandals out of Palin mumblings, Limbaugh rantings and pixie dust (see ACORN, Shirley Sherrod, death panels and birthers), the right suddenly finds that it finally has some charges of real substance with which to yoke the White House.
News that the IRS has unfairly targeted conservative groups is, indeed, troubling, outrageous and offensive to our fundamental notions of fairness and freedom. You’d think it would be difficult to overstate the seriousness of these misdeeds. But the modern conservative movement starts out with overstatement and works its way up from there.
So, conflating this disaster and the less-compelling Benghazi story, a chorus of figures on the right — Dick Morris and Allen West among them — has begun raising the dread specter of impeachment.
And Michele Bachmann calling it “far worse than Watergate.”
You even have a few bloggers who’ve dubbed it — you can’t make this stuff up — the worst. Scandal. Ever.
And here, we could use a little course in Scandal 101, dig up the moldering bones of Monica Lewinsky, Valerie Plame, Iran-Contra, Teapot Dome and, yes, Watergate, to provide a little desperately needed context. But perhaps it is more instructive to point out that no less authoritative a personage than GOP chairman Reince Priebus himself has advised his party to take a chill pill.
“We have to be persistent but patient,” Priebus said in an interview with Politico. “I think where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If we present ourselves to the American people as intelligent, we’re going to be in a great place as far as showing that this administration is not transparent, is obsessed with power and hates dissent. But you don’t call for impeachment until you have evidence.”
Well, duh. Ya think?
One hopes he’s not holding his breath waiting for his party to behave. If one trait has defined the conservative movement in recent years, it is its extremism, its utter estrangement from reality. Recently, we’ve seen that impression quantified — yet again — from within the party’s own ranks.
Bob Dole, the GOP’s 1996 presidential standard bearer, told Fox “News” neither he nor Ronald Reagan would likely be electable in today’s GOP. His party, he said, should be “closed for repairs.” And a group of college Republicans has issued a report that says the party must change to win over voters their age who consider it “closed-minded, racist, rigid, old-fashioned.”
This latest behavior will not help. For years, the GOP playbook has called for inflating bare nothings — “Travelgate,” “Whitewater,” ACORN — into scandals. Their aim is neither truth nor justice, but the takedown of an opposing president. But with this IRS story, there is finally some “there,” there. And the party does not know how to act.
An old political axiom says that you should never interfere while an opponent is busy destroying himself. Not that Team Obama is destroying itself, but it is undeniably wounded. That should be the story here. Instead, the story is becoming — again — GOP overreach, opportunism and craziness. This might be a good moment for the party, says its chairman, “if we present ourselves … as intelligent.”
Sounds as if even he knows: that’s a mighty big if.
(Leonard Pitts is a columnist for The Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132. Readers may contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite