Demand-Side Scandals

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Darrell Issa’s control of the House Oversight Committee began with a bold claim. He declared Barack Obama “one of the most corrupt presidents in modern times,” and pledged to uncover the assumed misconduct and corruption of the administration.

Two years later, and we’re still waiting for evidence.

The Obama administration hasn’t been perfect, and it’s disappointed liberals on a wide variety of issues, ranging from national security to the environment. But in its four years, and to its credit, the Obama White House has been remarkably scandal-free. There have been controversies—the tax problems that plagued the administration in its first year, for example—but absolutely nothing on the scale of Whitewater or Valerie Plame.

But rather than reevaluate their belief in the administration’s corruption, conservatives have opted—instead—to obsess over anything that could prove wrongdoing on the part of Obama or his officials. It’s not at all hard to find right-wing writers, pundits, and activists who insist on Obama’s guilt. Aside from the usual suspects—Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, the collected personalities of Fox News—there’s Tom Fitton of JudicialWatch, who presents the Obama administration as a hyper-secretive den of criminality, and John Hinderaker who has a whole section of his widely-read blog devoted to administration “scandals.”

This basic belief in Obama’s corruption is key to understanding the GOP’s obsession with the attacks in Benghazi and its earlier preoccupation with “Fast and Furious,” despite the absence of evidence for wrongdoing.

Right-wing media has stoked huge demand for scandal among conservative consumers, but there isn’t a supply. And so, Republicans have had to create them, latching onto mistakes and ambiguities, and magnifying them into epic examples of administration misconduct. With Fast and Furious, a poorly-executed anti-gun trafficking operation became a massive conspiracy to confiscate American firearms, and with Benghazi, it’s a broad cover-up of gross mismanagement. And depending on the political circumstances of the next four years, I wouldn’t be surprised if some Republicans tried to spin these “scandals” into grounds for impeachment. Already, Mike Huckabee is predicting impeachment over Benghazi and I expect to see more of the same other prominent Republicans.

There is one question raised by all of this: Aren’t there responsible Republicans who see this behavior as damaging to the party’s brand? Absolutely, they just have little influence over actual GOP politicians and the voters they represent. For the Republicans who indulge this, there’s not much to lose.

Politicians like Texas Senator Ted Cruz can hold hearings, rail against the administration and earn the adulation of conservative activists without having to worry about actual substance. Likewise, for Republicans like South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham—who has an uneasy relationship with the GOP base—these demand-side scandals allow him to satisfy critics without sacrificing anything. A few hours yelling about Benghazi is enough to earn him goodwill with hard right activists in his state.

Which is why it’s unlikely that any of this will die down. There’s simply too much to gain for all segments of the Republican Party, from politicians and activists to pundits and other media figures. Satisfying conservative demand for Democratic scandals is lucrative business, and it will continue for as long as Barack Obama—or any Democrat—is president.