Political Animal


November 15, 2012 3:02 PM The Roots of the Benghazi Frenzy

By Ed Kilgore

Regular readers know that I am deeply puzzled by the GOP frenzy over what happened in Benghazi. Sure, before the election I can see how it might have been misperceived as a “game changer,” not to mention as catnip for the small but noisy faction of conservative gabbers who always thought foreign relations provided the best optic for exposing the “un-American” nature of the Obama political enterprise.

But the election has come and gone, and if anything, Benghazi-centric talk has escalated on the Right. It was instantly the subject that conservatives decided to bring up after the Petraeus mess came to light. And it’s the angle Republican senators have chosen to use to derail the possible nomination of Susan Rice as Secretary of State. It’s highly reminiscent of Fast & Furious, in the sense that it’s in all likelihood a less-than-earth-shaking screwup that’s being elevated into a Vast Conspiracy and a Signature Moment for the Right, and only the Right. And it runs right into the factual problem that Republican presidents have overseen far more consequential screw-ups, dating back at least to the Sainted Ronald Reagan’s horrific failures in Lebanon.

Well, the ever-insightful Paul Waldman has offered his own theory about the Benghazi Frenzy at TAP, and it’s certainly plausible:

So what’s going on here? I can sum it up in two words: scandal envy. Republicans are indescribably frustrated by the fact that Barack Obama, whom they regard as both illegitimate and corrupt, went through an entire term without a major scandal. They tried with “Fast and Furious,” but that turned out to be small potatoes. They tried with Solyndra, but that didn’t produce the criminality they hoped for either. Obama even managed to dole out three-quarters of a trillion dollars in stimulus money without any graft or double-dealing to be found. Nixon had Watergate, Reagan had Iran-Contra, Clinton had Lewinsky, and Barack Obama has gotten off scott-free. This is making them absolutely livid, and they’re going to keep trying to gin up a scandal, even if there’s no there there. Benghazi may not be an actual scandal, but it’s all they have handy.

Maybe that’s it: just an ill-repressed desire to “expose” the underlying rottenness of the Obama administration they all believe in, and an effort to get his second term off to a bad start with congressional GOP “investigators” holding the whip hand. But you do have to wonder about the psychology of a political party that’s just lost a big election making its first big move an appeal to its radicalized conservative base, which is what this fundamentally represents.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TCinLA on November 15, 2012 3:16 PM:

    No, it's just a further demonstration of how stupid stupid has to be to be one of these idiots. A demonstration of how low you have to flunk the IQ test to go live in FactFreeWackoWorld.

  • Herschel on November 15, 2012 3:34 PM:

    Has anyone figured out what possible benefit the Obama administration would derive by saying the attack grew out of a demonstration over the video while being secretly aware that it was a planned attack? What would be the point?

  • davidp on November 15, 2012 3:35 PM:

    After failing in their goal of making Obama a one term president, they're now aiming at the next best thing, i.e., by way of impeachment to make him a one and a bit term president.

  • biggerbox on November 15, 2012 3:40 PM:

    I have to disagree with Mr. Waldman. The people I hear from on the Right actually think all of those non-scandals WERE scandals. They've completely lost the ability to tell what is and isn't a real scandal. I've had someone try and convince me that the Benghazi cover-up is worse than Watergate, and somehow he believes it. "No one died in Watergate," he parrots.

  • rdale on November 15, 2012 3:42 PM:

    They're trying their best to gin up an impeachment. Just wait; before the end of 2013, I bet we'll see articles of impeachment introduced. They did it to President Clinton over less.

  • dalloway on November 15, 2012 3:44 PM:

    Go ahead, Goopers. Become scandal-tastic for the next for years. Try an impeachment. Hold the middle class tax cuts hostage to give more money to rich. Keep dissing those brown-skinned gift-whores.

    You think 2012 was a bad election? Even your severely gerrymandered House won't save you in 2014.

  • Peter C on November 15, 2012 3:53 PM:

    'No-drama Obama' is messing with their 'everyone does it' meme. And they promised to hire all those 'special prosecutors' too! No wing-nut welfare for them!

    Crapcha had: Sampson ngDarkin ; )

  • FlipYrWhig on November 15, 2012 3:57 PM:

    I heard a conversation between two old guys at the gym in which one patiently explained to the other how this administration had gotten so many more people killed than any administration in a long time... "between Benghazi and Fast and Furious." I wanted to say that far more Americans died being electrocuted in KBR's faulty showers, but I decided to let them stew in their own juices a few more years.

  • Daniel Buck on November 15, 2012 4:03 PM:

    This will take some looking back. I wonder if the party out of power, that is, out of the White House, is not somehow emotionally inclined to raise hell with whatever is at hand.

    Second theory, assuming the first one does not hold up: soon after his arrival in the House, Newt Gingrich pioneered name-calling and scandal-mongering as the normal order of business. It became almost a permanent state of affairs, even to the perverse point of focus-grouping words to use, the rhetorical equivalent of field testing weaponry.

    Third theory -- they keep coming to me as I'm typing, since Republicans are not interested in governing, which involves working with their Democratic colleagues, compromising, etc., there's little left to do than bomb toss.


  • T2 on November 15, 2012 4:11 PM:

    Ed, why are you puzzled? You are a professional political journalist. The Bengazi thing is pure politics by Conservatives trying to discredit the Obama Administration....
    The same Conservatives, literally, that called the Abu Ghraib torture horror the work of a couple "bad apples". The same nuts who told us Saddam had huge stores of WMD. The same guys who said Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster.
    But let them go ahead and appeal to their radicalized conservative base. As we've recently found out - that base don't win elections.

  • ex-curm on November 15, 2012 4:12 PM:

    On some aspects of this, the White House has not explained things well:

    Why did the State Department turn down requests for more security there?

    I don't think that's a conspiracy but I still am not clear on the answer. And yes I know that Republicans wanted to cut State Department funding, but that is not an answer to this specific question.

  • Dude on November 15, 2012 4:13 PM:

    And then if and when an actual scandal does come along, the GOP is the boy who cried wolf, because what sane person thinks they're credible after all the witch hunts they've engaged in.

  • David on November 15, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Also - it's food to feed tea party primary voters that doesn't have real general election consequences. That right there explains Graham and McCain being so far forward on this. Other tea party issues create real problems for senators like McCain and Graham, who do not otherwise have foam-at-the-mouth credentials to point to in their record. Both face primary fights in 2014.

    I hope Republicans do push for impeachment. There's nothing they could accomplish in the next 4 years that would so completely stain the Republican brand as extremist wing-nuts across the board. It would be the political equivalent of self-immolation. And their bubble-world is crazy enough right now to think such a gesture would be a good thing.

  • Robert Bailey on November 15, 2012 4:19 PM:

    I think Romney made a stupid statement the night of Benghazi. His party came to his aid and the whole Benghazi episode entered the TwiRight Zone. Now the GOP is back pretty much where they were 4 years ago. They cannot allow Obama any victories. They fear GOP destruction, and they should. They will push Benghazi. They will block, if the Senate insanely neglects to reform their rules yet again, every appointment. We have seen all of this before.

  • slojoe on November 15, 2012 4:23 PM:

    Public opinion has changed over which party is the better steward of national security and foreign policy. That's lost ground for republican militarists and as 'outs' in the senate they'll do anything they can to blunt that trend.

  • gus on November 15, 2012 4:25 PM:

    One of the aspects of this frenzy which is bizarre is how many Believers are on the same page about what this all means and what happened.

    Some of the comments above are the exact things I’ve heard said of this....unfortunate, yet not absolutely catastrophic, occurrence. If you bring up worse things which have occurred that resulted in greater to harm to more people, those events (History, to you and I) are dismissed as not even comparable. Yet, somehow, someway, Benghazi is comparable to Watergate with them.

    That makes absolutely no sense at all. I can cite tragedy after tragedy, including and especially Reagan and Beirut, and it doesn’t phase some people.

    For what it is worth, I am of the notion that some people should have a longer memory than I do on stuff that mattered then. But, other than the Internet, I have no way of knowing what people felt was important back in Beirut and how Reagan was either patted on the back or got the same treatment as Obama is getting. My suspicions are that Reagan didn’t get anything comparable to what Obama is getting.

    Was Ed Meese his Att’y Gen. at that point? Was he getting the same hate as Holder gets for “not doing” anything for “his friend” Obama? It is patently absurd how some people are over reacting. And they wonder how they lost with Made Up Data driving enthusiasm for Romney.

  • boatboy_srq on November 15, 2012 4:34 PM:

    This is Whitewater 2.0.

    It's more simple than simple "scandal envy." There's a conviction amongst the GOTea that all Democrats are wanton, felonious characters who just haven't been found out and arrested yet. Given how corrupt all too many GOTeahadists have proven, it's remarkable that they can't see the beam in their own collective eye. In their minds, BHO is a Democrat, President, and has been reelected: therefore, he must be guilty of something.

    In the Benghazi case, dollars to doughnuts there's some Repug (Issa, perhaps?) who's convinced that BHO actually had the Libyan delegation killed because they'd found hard evidence of his Kenyan Islamofascist link.

    Don't forget that these are the same geniuses who are still convinced that the Clintons had Vince Foster snuffed for far more petty reasons.

  • Repack Rider on November 15, 2012 4:34 PM:

    We invaded Iraq without the Congressional Declaration of War required by Article II of the Constitution. The invasion cost $1 Trillion, killed 1100 times as many Americans as died in Libya, and 100,000 (or so) Brown People. The WMD that were the "justification" were not there.

    This was the worst failure of our government...EVER. Did anyone ever answer for it?

  • dweb on November 15, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Right wing radio and TV.....Rush has been blaring Benghazi ever since it happened...then Drudge, Hannity, FOX....the usual litany.

    McCain and Graham? John is being his usual militaristic self....no foreign policy problem we can't resolve without military action, and Graham is facing a very likely primary with his biggest opposition probably coming from his right (amazing that a guy like Graham even has to look in that direction) and is trying to shore up his bona fides before that by seizing the flag.

  • gregor on November 15, 2012 4:41 PM:

    Obviously their claims would be worth considering if they had also focused on 'ben Laden like to attack USA' failure of the GOP guy. Worth considering, but not necessary worth serious consideration.

  • g on November 15, 2012 4:43 PM:

    What's the core issue of Benghazi, anyway? A critique of the verbal nuances and timing of a series of public statements over the period of two weeks?

    This is a scandal? How? Especially because, now, after the two weeks, most parties agree on the issues that were unclear before?

  • boatboy_srq on November 15, 2012 4:44 PM:

    I hope Republicans do push for impeachment. There's nothing they could accomplish in the next 4 years that would so completely stain the Republican brand as extremist wing-nuts across the board.

    It would certainly remove any "uncertainty" about "bipartisanship." And while the federal government would grind to a halt while the process was pushed along, assuming it happens in the next year it would illustrate in blinding technicolor just how partisan, narrow-minded and obstructionist the GOTea has become - clearly enough to generate the kind of Dem sweep in 2014 that none of us would ever dream possible otherwise.

    As a secondary effect, it would certainly go a long way toward ending Democratic hesitation initiating a pResidential impeachment with just cause (Iraq/Katrina/etc) at whatever point a GOTea pResident were sElected in the future - assuming the Grand Auld Pahtee survived long enough.

  • LAC on November 15, 2012 4:58 PM:

    There shouldn't be a surprise:

    Add the bones of one bitter old man, the flop sweat of a stunt queen prepping himself for a primary bid, and a sprinkling of stupid media and you got youself a recipe for why shit never gets done in Washington, DC.

  • Bokonon on November 15, 2012 5:25 PM:

    What I don't get is the emotional heat and rage behind this whole Benghazi thing. But I've now heard accusations from the right that the President "betrayed" the troops, left the ambassador and his guards to get murdered by a mob (by not calling in a missle strike or a gunship to blow everyone up?) And that Obama committed treason.


    Where are they getting this stuff?

    As Daniel Patrick Moynihan said years ago, "everyone is entitled to their own personal opinion. Nobody is entitled to their own personal facts." But I think the right wing grassroots has gone DEEP into the realm of creating their own personal facts on Benghazi. And that is what is driving this mess forwards. Not quibbles about public statements and timing. That's just the public, respectible face that the GOP and the media is putting on a much bigger phenomenon.

    Eerily similar to the Clinton impeachment fever swamps - which were never really about Clinton lying to a grand jury. It was about the conspiracies, the claims of Arkansas drug running, rape, and murder.

  • T2 on November 15, 2012 5:44 PM:

    at the hearings today, a great Democratic Party Congressman stood up to the GOP and pointed out that it was Republicans in the House that voted down millions which had been requested by the Obama Administration to beef up security at compounds just like Bengazi. truth at last.

  • Neil B.... on November 15, 2012 6:05 PM:

    I think this matters: the sort of thing McCain et al keep saying so much, is that it should have been obvious that people in a spontaneous demonstration wouldn't have RPGs and machine guns etc. But with the heavy and widespread recent civil war in Libya, it's credible that plenty of young men would have such around (that they were officially supposed to give up after the victory, but didn't) and might grab some if pissed off over insults to Islam. Then there's the ride-coattails issue, that some militia groups could have been waiting to sneak in among protesters with other priorities etc. To me, the big scandal is: why don't we know more about what was behind that disruptive video in the first place?


    "Fine minds make fine distinctions."

  • grinaldi on November 15, 2012 6:17 PM:

    I think part of the harping on Benghazi is exactly as Waldman suggests, "scandal envy" or, more accurately, "scandal desperation". But I think the main reason the GOP is still jumping up and down on this has very little to do with Obama and the 2012 election and everything to do with Hilary Clinton and the 2016 election. After her very successful run at State, the GOP has nothing to tar her with in four years. The more than can hammer Benghazi as a buzzword for something nefarious (ignore the particulars), the more ground is laid for negative ads against the presumptive nominee in four years.

    It's also possible I am giving these folks WAY too much credit for thinking ahead.

  • Doug on November 15, 2012 6:30 PM:

    Has "They're nuts!" been taken?
    After all, these are the very same type of people that Buckley, Sen. Taft (usually) and Eisenhower did their best to keep out of the spotlight (and power). Goldwater, a libertarian Republican, didn't believe they were as crazy as people said; he learned otherwise.
    Now we have the Fat and the Furious, aka Limbaugh, and others of his ilk constantly egging them on. We have Fox validating their idiocies because Fox is a "news" organization. During the days of Cronkite/Huntly-Brinkley/Mudd, to maintain such beliefs required real effort; not only in first finding the "news items" that supported you views, but also in avoiding the constant repetition of factual information.
    The intertubes - definitely a mixed blessing...

  • Anonymous on November 15, 2012 8:48 PM:

    It's quite simple...
    Obama had explicit, to the minute intelligence when the terrorist attack was going to take place.
    The embassy called for help.
    Obama ignored it all and let them get murdered.
    Therefore, Obama is directly, personally responsible for the deaths.
    Since he's now murdered American diplomats, he has committed high treason against the USA and must be impeached. QED
    Or something.

  • BuzzMon on November 15, 2012 9:56 PM:

    Has no one considered that this is part of discrediting the western success in Libya, and the pro-American sentiments that have come out of that now liberated country?
    Obama's methods here have utterly outclassed the Republican model of "send our troops (and contractors) in" and this is a smokescreen to obscure that victory, denigrate Obama & fire up the nuts.

  • Hue and Cry on November 15, 2012 10:39 PM:

    Frenzy--well said. It was helpful yesterday that Chuck Todd of MSNBC said-- and tweeted-- that the initial information from the CIA on Bengazii was the same for Congress, for Susan Rice and for the president right as she spoke on television.
    Case closed. Get over it, Jack.
    These guys--McCain and Graham-- are being dissed by their own party for these insane optics.

  • Gretchen on November 16, 2012 12:04 AM:

    McCain was yelling about there needing to be an investigation into Libya, but didn't bother to go to the classified Senate briefings about it, nor did most of the other Republicans on the committee. When CNN asked him why he didn't go since he's so upset about hit, he said he didn't have to explain his use of time to them.

  • boatboy_srq on November 16, 2012 8:37 AM:

    Eerily similar to the Clinton impeachment fever swamps - which were never really about Clinton lying to a grand jury. It was about the conspiracies, the claims of Arkansas drug running, rape, and murder.

    Try identical. The shorter version of this fauxtrage is this: No pResident of the United States is legitimate unless he's Republican (and definitely male, and almost certainly white and Protestant/Fundamentalist). And no pResident who is all those things can ever possibly be questioned - especially by any Democrat.


    @Gretchen: the elderly never have to explain naptime. Too bad Matthau is dead: if ever there were a movie with McCain amongst the characters, he'd be a shoo-in for the role.

  • esaud on November 16, 2012 9:44 AM:

    People forget about the faux "White House party crasher" scandal. It's important because Republicans actually drew blood. Village Tabby Sally Quinn wouldn't let go until Desiree Rogers quit.

  • Anonymous on November 17, 2012 12:47 AM:

    The unfair thing is that Susan Rice was misrepresenting who killed Americans only because the CIA gave her and white house and senate the wrong report initially.
    It was unintentional and she was just a messenger.

    Also, it's really not a big deal that CIA relied on Libyan militias about its being mob attack instead of terrorists. mobs and terrorists are hard to distinguish. it is embarrassing for the CIA but not a big deal.

    Who was the director of the CIA that gave Rice the wrong report?
    They should be grilling him! oh wait, it's their hero general!! Oops.

  • Spearshaker on November 27, 2012 10:08 PM:

    Mr Kilgore writes: "But the election has come and gone, and if anything,Benghazi-centric talk has escalated on the Right. It was instantly the subject that conservatives decided to bring up after the Petraeus mess came to light." That is not true! The Petraeus scandal was the last thing in the sequence of events.
    The Benghazi attack was brought to light 2 days after it happened and might have interfered with the President's
    visit to "the View" and the David Letterman show where he mentioned the "terrible video" that prompted the attack.
    Also,I think it's important to keep chronology in mind when writing about events such as the Benghazi story.
    That affords so much more credibility to the writer's dissertation.