More astute Republicans are well aware that their so-called “scandals” can end up damaging them more than President Obama — just as the impeachment of President Clinton wounded the GOP in 1998.
“Watch the way the Republicans are handling today’s controversies and it’s easy to see how their tactics could backfire again,” Bloomberg‘s Ramesh Ponnuru wrote Wednesday.
The very next morning, Ponnuru’s warning began to come true, as Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus lost one of the ardent critics of the Obama administration’s handling of these scandals, The National Journal‘s Ron Fournier.
Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Priebus suggested the president was engaged in “lawlessness and guerrilla warfare.”
“Based on what we know so far, it is incorrect to say the president is ‘in the middle’ of ‘lawlessness and guerrilla warfare.’ It is also irresponsible,” Fournier wrote. “And it’s bad politics.”
Republicans are counting on the sheer volume of their investigations to eventually chip away at the president’s approval ratings, but they’re likely overestimating — as they did in 1998 — both their case and ability to sway the public’s opinion. And not just because “They’re attacking the president where he’s least vulnerable at a time when they have minimal credibility.”
Even worse, Republicans are likely to taint necessary investigations — like those into reporters as co-conspirators in espionage — with such rabid politicization that any actual discussion will be worthless.
The GOP’s problems begin with the fact that the story they’re trying to tell about the president makes no sense.
“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,” writes The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent. And even if they decide on a narrative — today they’re leaning towards Obama being a tyrant — each so-called scandal ultimately contains issues that undermine conservative ideology and expose their hypocrisy.
Ultimately, the Republicans’ biggest problem is that it’s obvious that they would not consider any of these “scandals” to be scandals if a Republican were in the White House.
Would the right-wing media be blasting a Republican for using bad talking points about a 9/11 terrorist attack to avoid criticism? The Bush administration used bad talking points about a 9/11 terrorist attack to start a war.
But surely they would take on the IRS if political opponents were being targeted! “Under George W. Bush, it went after the NAACP, Greenpeace and even a liberal church,” writes Salon‘s Alex Seitz-Wald.
And press freedom? “These leakers!” Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes told a reporter in 1998. “I think they should all be executed and tortured.”
As you dig into the details, each “scandal” the president is accused of actually indicts the Republicans.
Take Benghazi. Cutting foreign aid, which is a tiny fraction of our budget, is constant right-wing talking point that appeals to the xenophobia and isolationism of much of the party’s base. In 2011, House Republicans substantially cut State Department security.
There’s a liberal argument to be made that the administration decided to scapegoat the makers of a YouTube video, attacking freedom of speech, in order to deflect from their inability to stop the attack. But the forgotten scandal of Benghazi was that there were ongoing protests about this video at several U.S. embassies, endangering the lives of scores of American diplomats in under-secured outposts through out the region. The night of the attacks, the GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney attacked the administration just hours after Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed. From that moment till now, seven months later, Republicans have only sought to pin some sort of Benghazi scandal on the president, ignoring the issue of how future attacks could be prevented.
“The breathless search for a cover-up has only served to bury the real — and potentially deadly — problems,” wrote former diplomat Ronan Farrow.
Republicans have politicized terror attacks when they’re in power to justify military adventure. And they use them when they’re out of power to undermine their opponents. It’s pretty clear to the American people why we’re better off with them out of power.
The IRS “scandal” does point to overzealous agents with no connection to the White House using dumb methods in trying to sort through the ruse known as 501(c)4s. Here, again, intentional underfunding created a situation where government failed and could be criticized.
But the danger for the GOP is if the public starts looking at these groups, which are legally not allowed to influence elections and exist solely to give tax-exempt groups the chance to hide their donors — which can include corporations, thanks to Citizens United.
Finally, the leak investigations from the Department of Justice have drawn criticism of the president both on the left and — opportunistically — the right. This is the issue where policy matters most. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter David Cay Johnston believes the Obama White House has been worse in the way it deals with the press than even George W. Bush. That’s not a legacy to be proud of, and the president seems to get that, given the comments he made Thursday:
Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. That is why I have called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government over-reach. I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review.
A thorough House investigation of these accusations of stifling the press where Republicans stake out the limits of government power would be very useful if the GOP ever takes the White House back, not that they would be abide by their own standards then. We know this because their hypocrisy is obvious now. Both Mitt Romney and a SuperPAC known as Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc. attempted and failed to make the intelligence leaks — not press freedom — an issue in the last election.
Scandal is not an agenda. Just as the Bush administration’s illegal use of waterboarding laid waste to the GOP’s claim in the Clinton impeachment of caring about the “rule of law,” House investigations won’t reveal any moral case for electing Republicans.
What it will do instead is reveal a party that’s again trying to destroy a man they could never defeat.
AP Photo/CBS News, Chris Usher