Political Animal


February 22, 2013 9:20 AM Wandering Down the Hall of Mirrors

By Ed Kilgore

One of the weird things about Benghazi! is that it’s an issue discussed endlessly on the Right and barely at all on the Left (this is one of several ways in which the “scandal” resembles Fast ‘n’ Furious, the last big conservative freak-out that made little or no sense to anyone else). After we got beyond the actual events and the immediate follow-up, the MSM, best as I can tell, took it seriously when conservatives brought it up in other contexts, from the end-game of the presidential contest to the Hagel nomination.

NPR’s Ari Shapiro has essayed something rare: an MSM assessment of the Benghazi! phenomenon in all its skewed partisan glory. Here’s a sample:

Benghazi has become a sort of catchword. To Republicans, it symbolizes everything bad about the Obama administration. It’s not the first word to fill that role. At the start of the president’s first term, it was Obamacare. Later, Solyndra.
Now Benghazi helps Republicans raise money, fire up the base and take a whack at the guy in charge. And in this case, unlike with Obamacare or Solyndra, the administration acknowledges it screwed up.
“We need to make sure that never happens again,” says Tommy Vietor, a White House spokesman. “We all have a role in this. And when the focus gets politicized — when words like ‘cover-up’ are used, when we’re focused only on talking points, not what do these individuals need to keep them safe — that’s when I think we kind of miss the runway.”
Beyond the pressure cookers of Congress and AM talk radio, even many Republicans agree that the debate over Benghazi has moved away from substance into a political hall of mirrors.
“I missed the meeting among Republicans where it was decided this would become an angry cause célèbre that should be pursued at all costs and with no holds barred,” says Republican strategist Ed Rogers.

Not to mention “forever and ever, world without end.” But I digress.

There was a substantive investigation into the attacks. Retired Ambassador Thomas Pickering co-chaired the independent commission. The State Department accepted all of his recommendations. One employee resigned, and three were placed on administrative leave. That was two months ago.
Now, Pickering says, the Benghazi debate is in a new chapter.
“The political questions will obviously continue as long as people feel there’s political mileage to be made of them,” Pickering says.
When asked if that’s par for the course in Washington, Pickering says, “I think this is quite unusual. This is the first time that this kind of a review has been so politicized.”

Shapiro goes on to quote Tad Devine suggesting that GOPers are using this to deal with their lost advantage on foreign policy and national security issues. There are much more obvious political motives in individual cases of Benghazi!-mania like Lindsey Graham’s: he’s up for re-election next year in a state whose Republican Party is among the nation’s most rabidly ideological; having some network TV footage of him savaging the hated Obama and the hated Hillary for their Muslim-coddling, America-hating ways is worth it’s weight in gold.

And that may be the real source of Benghazi!-fever. Just as Fast ‘n’ Furious connected conservative anxieties about immigration and guns, Benghazi! has both a national security and a religious element: In their handling of Benghazi!, Obama and company were stomping on the constitutional rights of good Christians just trying to tell the truth about Islam, in order to disguise their helplessness if not complicity over Muslim terrorists killing Americans.

So the “scandal” can’t end until the Christ-hating secular socialists running the White House and State Department admit their evil motives. It will never die unless displaced by something equally evocative of right-wing theories that Explain It All.

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.


  • Speed on February 22, 2013 9:37 AM:

    Benghazi and F&F say more about the inner workings of the CIA and BATF and the rest of our shadow government than whatever administration happens to be in power at the moment. As with the Iran-Contra scandal, there was too much focus on Reagan, and not enough on the CIA-Cuban exile drug trafficking/gun running network by the unelected government.

  • bleh on February 22, 2013 9:37 AM:

    Simple explanations for simple minds.

  • BillFromPA on February 22, 2013 9:57 AM:

    While there's certainly an element of this being 'inside' the GOP, by the GOP and for the benefit of the base, I'm sure that deep down the repugs can't believe that they've lost the ability gin up a scandal out of this. Let's remember that the Clinton impeachment started with the wingnuts taking a land deal that LOST money for Bill and Hill, they flogged that and followed a trail to nowhere until they stumbled into Monica. Apparenty they're now mourninmg their lost Faux Scandal Mojo.

  • DRF on February 22, 2013 10:01 AM:

    The Republicans are basically talking to themselves on this. I suspect that most people either have no idea what the issue is with Benghazi or, like me, have followed this only casually, and don't see the scandal in it. This just doesn't seem to be a subject that interests people or has any traction.

    The Republicans seem to be trying desparately to turn it into some sort of huge story, but no one is buying it.

  • FMguru on February 22, 2013 10:08 AM:

    Waaaaaay back in the 1990s, the GOP was able to hamstring a Democratic president by yammering nonstop about all kinds of made-up scandals (HIllary's cattle futures! The White House Travel Office! Something about background files!). The media went along with every one of them, and it eventually led to Monica Lewinsky and impeachment. The pipeline from fever dream or slanderous rumor to the front page of the NYT or WP worked like a swiss clock, and it was a huge political advantage for the GOP and a huge financial windfall for its nascent media organs (Fox, Limbaugh, Drudge, etc.)

    Solyndra and Fast And Furious and Benghazi are just this decade's effort to gin up the same scandal machine and hamstring Obama like Clinton, only it isn't working (exactly why it isn't working would be a good subject for an article or a blog post). Republicans are so upset because their voodoo, which had worked so reliably just 15 years ago, has utterly failed to move voters or media coverage. The way the nation and most of the media yawns at these "scandals" nowadays has really sent them around the bend. They yell louder and louder because they can't quite believe they've lost one of their favor levers of obstructionism.

  • MuddyLee on February 22, 2013 11:07 AM:

    The sane citizens of South Carolina apologize to the rest of the country for the conduct of Lindsey Graham. But every time he and the crazy conservatives say "Benghazi" the rest of us need to say
    "Iraq War" about 10 times.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 22, 2013 11:24 AM:

    Much ado about nothing, especially when the GOoPers just can't do an about-face after throwing many a televised hissy fits and just say, "Yeah, this really isn't all that important in the grand scheme of things. Nevermind."

    Even three-year old's know how to eventually just chillax after feigning a temper tantrum. But the GOP is demonstrating for the world to see that pride certainly is a bitch.

    I think they should consult Julian Fellows on how to manufacture a convenient and sudden demise of key actors in this little made-for-tv saga.

  • J on February 22, 2013 11:56 AM:

    I hope and pray that when the Hagel hearing group get back someones tells Cruz he needs to apologize to Hagel for using a non-existent group in his questioning.

  • PS on February 22, 2013 12:29 PM:

    Compare and contrast Republican response to Benghazi vs. Newtown.

  • PTate in MN on February 22, 2013 3:49 PM:

    Add Acorn, Sharia Law and Death Panels to Obamacare, Solyndra, Fast and Furious, and, now, Benghazi.

    These single word rallying points serve as a litmus test of what's motivating the base: the threat of outsiders (dark-skinned, Muslim) seizing "our" wealth, ravaging our way of life and killing us off.

    Conservatism these days is more about paranoid delusions than differences of opinion.

  • Epicurus on February 22, 2013 5:05 PM:

    The balls on these people! Where was all the outrage over 9/11?? Oh, but that was a good Republican President, so I guess that's OK. Screw these people, please stop voting Republican!!!!

  • Doug on February 22, 2013 7:54 PM:

    My personal belief is that the reason none of these have gotten anywhere is quite simple. Who's really to blame?
    Dig into BENGHAZI!!!!!! and what does one find? House Republicans cutting funds requested by the DoS for security. Dig a bit deeper and one finds a Mr. Bacile with some unusual acquaintances providing funding for the now infamous video. A video which not only was deliberately designed to incite Muslim outrage, but was conveniently released in close proximity to the 10th anniversay of 9/11. Do Republicans REALLY want to go there? No, which is why they continually harp on "four dead Americans" and BENGHAZI!!!. Anything other than DoS funding or Mr. Bacile.
    Solyndra, F&F and haven't really gotten anywhere is because they all lead back to - He Who is NOT to be Named! Republicans may not still claim GWB, but as far as the rest of the country goes he's a Republican in, if you'll pardon the phrase, good standing.
    They're STILL the "party of Stupid", though...