Scandal Makers

AP Photo

In case you didn't notice, over the last few days we entered a new phase in the Obama presidency: the scandal phase. What happened? It wasn't evidence of a crime being unearthed, or a confession from a conspirator. There was no sudden revelation, no arrests, no cancer on the presidency. Indeed, just a few days ago it looked for all the world like Benghazi would take its place with Solyndra and "Fast and Furious" as one more wished-for scandal that, despite the best efforts of Republicans, failed to take flight. Yet all it took was ABC News getting passed some emails between the CIA, the State Department, and the White House detailing how the administration argued over how exactly to talk about the attack in Benghazi to get things underway, and now we have calls for special committees and ramped-up coverage. There may not be anything particularly shocking in those emails—just the time-honored tradition of people trying to cover their asses—but internal deliberations being revealed, no matter what they contain, has given the media enough of a prod to start that scandal train moving, and before you know it everyone's going to jump onboard.

So suddenly it looks like this isn't going away, not because there was appalling malfeasance (or any malfeasance at all), but because once the train is moving, it's almost impossible to stop. Put together the right's desperate longing for an Obama scandal—turn on Fox News or listen to conservative radio, and you'll see eyelids fluttering in ecstasy as this story gains momentum—with congressional Republicans' helplessness in the face of pressure from their base, and the media's inability to resist a presidential scandal story, and this whole thing might not end unless and until Barack Obama is impeached.

"But that's crazy," you may say. And yes, it is. Furthermore, it would be unbelievably stupid of Republicans to push it that far, just from the perspective of their own political self-interest. But that doesn't mean they won't do it. It's a little glib to say that they'd do it because they're nuts, but the truth is that impeachment could well become the inevitable end point of a process that has nothing to do with the actual facts, with all the different parts of the conservative machine feeding coal into the boiler as the train gets faster and faster.

But let's take a step back for a moment. There is no such thing as a two-term presidency without some sort of scandal cropping up at some point, and what's most remarkable is that it took this long for the Obama administration to become embroiled in one. Is the fact that he made it through an entire term with no serious scandal a testament to the administration's integrity? Perhaps. It certainly wasn't for lack of trying on the Republicans' part.

But there are scandals, and then there are scandals. For instance, the Valerie Plame scandal, in which members of the Bush administration revealed the identity of an undercover CIA operative in order to discredit her husband, an administration critic, was a serious matter. But it wasn't nearly as important as, say, the Iran-Contra scandal, in which the Reagan administration sold arms to terrorists, then used the profits to fund the right-wing group of Nicaraguan exiles it had established in an attempt to overthrow the government there, which was a direct violation of a law passed by Congress. And even that was a step down from Watergate, in which Richard Nixon and people working for him committed a whole series of crimes. Lest we forget (and believe me, people have), the President of the United States was on tape ordering crimes to be committed, and in the end his Attorney General, his Chief of Staff, and his chief domestic policy advisor all went to jail, along with a couple of dozen other people.

Those were real scandals, not to mention the one 15 years ago that was the most lurid of all, despite featuring so little actual criminality. Maybe this time around we'll­ discover something no one has even contemplated—say, that Hillary Clinton discovered a low-level State Department functionary who was about to blow the whistle on her secret romance with a Mexican drug lord, whereupon she killed him with her bare hands. But probably not.

So what's going to happen? There will be more hearings, each one hyped by Republicans as the one that will "blow the lid off" this whole thing. They will fail to deliver much that's actually revelatory. Nevertheless, the volume of discussion and speculation will rise inexorably. Republicans will begin calling for President Obama's impeachment; first it'll be a few nutbar Tea Partiers, then it will spread to some of the seemingly more sane ones, and finally the desire for impeachment will be nearly universal on the right. John Boehner will know in his heart that it's a terrible idea, but he may be confronted with a rebellion: schedule an impeachment vote, or face a leadership vote. Boehner's choice could be between impeachment and seeing Eric Cantor take his job (whereupon there'd be an impeachment vote anyway). Don't forget that impeachment only requires a simple majority in the House to trigger a trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority is required to convict.

The Republicans won't get that two-thirds majority in the Senate, so the whole thing would be a colossal waste of time. They'll look increasingly unhinged as they beg for the president they hate so fiercely to be tossed from office, knowing all the time their crusade is doomed. And just like in 1998, they'll probably suffer losses in the 2014 mid-term elections, after the voters grow disgusted with the whole affair.

Or maybe not. Maybe Republicans will, despite the thrill they'd get from sacking the White House like a bunch of Visigoths in a battle frenzy, see how disastrous impeachment would be. Oh, I suppose it's possible that with enough committees investigating and subpoenas issued, some actual illegal activity might be uncovered. Anything's possible. But it's far more likely that what we'll see is a hurricane of feigned outrage over what turn out to be nothing but mundane and ordinary activities of the kind that go on in government every day. We're seeing it already; keep in mind that the Republicans' most serious charge revolves around the creation of misleading talking points. Stop and think about that for a moment. Not intentionally breaking laws passed by Congress as in Iran-Contra, not obstruction of justice as in Watergate, not perjury as in the Lewinsky affair. The creation of misleading talking points.

In other words, the most damaging charge for which there is even the wispiest scintilla of evidence is that after the Benghazi attack, some people in the Obama administration were worried the whole thing might make the administration look bad. And that's probably true. But it's not a crime.

That, however, could barely matter any less. The train is moving, and there may be no way to stop it.


The Obama administration have done scandalous things; it's only that both parties were mostly okay with them. The decision to shield people from accountability for wholesale violations of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, itself a violation of the latter, remains a scandal. The adoption of the Bush scheme of secret legal opinions justifying secret crimes is a scandal. The decision to tax misbehaviour by financial institutions rather than pursue criminal charges is a scandal, if not necessarily involving any criminality on the administration's part. But Republicans weren't offended because these things are written into their party platform, and Democrats weren't offended because the offenders were their own.

Fellow Travelers:
How about a coupla quick questions, not rhetorical: I really would appreciate your thoughts:
1. How would you have reacted to President Bush wire-tapping the press?
2. Really, is there ANYTHING that President Obama could do to raise your ire?

Bush went after the NAACP. The right generates the scandal machine. It is that simple. Also they have so much money and power. Don't cry for Republicans unless you are a fool or a tool. IRS should have clamped down long ago on these crazy "social welfare" groups. No one abused it more than Rove.

Wiretapping? Huh? When? Where?

Wire-tapping is fine in a criminal investigation. Benghazi was a CIA operation that will remain secret and classified. The IRS is supposed to investigate all the so-called "social welfare" claims that use political tax-free money. The scandals are helped by the Republican propaganda network and the millions of megaphones who spread it. Corporate media are also on-board. Democracy is a pretty word that means nothing when it is so cheap and easy for the billionaires to run the country.

Blah....blah... Same people complaining about Obama admin were completely behind the GW administration when they illegally got personal information from companies, once caught, they changed the laws, retroactively, so they couldn't be held accountable. When will idiots in America realize when they allow one president to do something all others will do the same and push the envelope even more. Maybe if Nixon had been impeached for his similar behavior 9/11 still wouldn't of been good enough excuse to break the law. But GW's friends were just waiting for a "Pearl Harbor-like" incident to get more power...and guess what, what is good for the goose is good for the gander, so conservatives need to stop whining, though I know it's what they do best.

if only it were just a couple of muslims out walking and deciding to kill some americans, Paul. if only it was that 'darn video', Paul. if only the whistleblowers had not decided to come forward, Paul. if only the ARB would have interviewed Hillary, Paul. if only Barack had not gone on Unavision and 'The View' and to the UN to tell the world for 2-3 weeks that it was that 'darn video', Paul. if only this had not happened in the heat of the 2012 campaign, Paul. The this would be the old news that Carney keeps telling us about. but to correct Hillary, WE THE PEOPLE do care that 4 americans needlessly died and then Barack and Hillary and Vicky and Susan decided to cover up the bungle and poor management of this entire matter. is incompetence a reason for impeachment? alas, no?....but Hillary and Barack's legacy is now in tatters. deep sigh. oh and explain this to the families of the dead - and why you told them it was that 'darn video'....when all along you knew it was not!

What a silly article! Fast and furious was stupid, illegal, killed unknown numbers of people, shit on our neighbors to the south, and its not a scandal? And Benghazi, well the Repubs are barking up the wrong tree, as usual, but hey, there are questions. Like why did we murder a great leader? Where is the gold that Ghaddafi was going to establish for a united Bank of Africa? Hillary stepped down mighty quick after Benghazi. The Clintons are great buddies with gun runners, how about a real investigation. Not about what somebody said, but about what they did. Did all of the arms the west sold to Libya go to destabilize Syria? MANY OF THE ACTIONS OF THIS ADMMINISTRATION ARE AGAINST THE LAW. WE DO INDEED HAVE A ROGUE EXECUTIVE BRANCH. THE BILL OF RIGHTS IS SHOT TO HELL, AND THE RULE OF LAW IS BEING TRAMPLED. And don´t smear me as a nutty republican, I´ve worked for Bobby Kennedy, Ralph Nader, and Kucinich. The whole tone of the article was jejune, this silly R vs D stuff. Get over it. They are both selling our democracy down the river in league with their corporate masters.

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