By Emily Theroux
Let me get this straight.
- A recent document dump of emailed Obama administration talking points on Benghazi has provoked an enormous uproar on the right. But Obama press secretary Jay Carney says that these very emails had been given a pass by congressional Republicans months ago.
- After the classified details of a thwarted terrorist plot were leaked by an unknown government source, the Department of Justice seized the phone records of numerous Associated Press reporters and editors. President Obama claimed he knew nothing about this unconstitutional power play — an admission that led conservatives to dub him “the bystander president.” Meanwhile, news of the DOJ’s actions scared off carefully cultivated sources from talking to journalists.
- An Internal Revenue Service report revealed that the agency improperly targeted conservative organizations (particularly those with Tea Party affiliations) that applied for tax-exempt 501(c)(4) status during the 2012 presidential campaign.
This triple whammy of bad news hit both the Obama administration PR machine and the right-wing Obama scandal-mongering industry with superstorm force. The president, the attorney general, and IRS officials were left with a toxic omelet on their faces and more than a little explaining to do. The right reaped a bonanza of new fronts to exploit in their ongoing assault on Obama’s integrity as well as his second-term agenda, and loose talk of “the ‘I’ word” — impeachment — was fast-tracked by the extremists around whom the notion first began to coalesce.
The Fourth Estate and indeed, anyone concerned with maintaining a free press, are hopping mad over the AP controversy — and understandably paranoid. Attorney General Eric Holder claimed he had “recused himself” from any involvement in the matter, thus shirking all responsibility for calling for the AP subpoenas. (Harry Truman must be rolling over in his grave. What happened to “The buck stops here”?)
As for the GOP’s tiresome Benghazi obsession, the right has been trolling since the president’s election for an “Obama Watergate.” First, they seized on birtherism, then the president’s historic health care reform act. Near the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, the right pounced on the consulate attack in Benghazi, even though 12 terrorist attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities occurred during the Bush era, with numerous fatalities, and Republicans issued nary a peep about any of them.
Darrell Issa will undoubtedly forge ahead with his House Oversight Committee’s Benghazi witch hunt. The right’s main event, however, seems to be pivoting to exploitation of the IRS “crisis,” along with a generous side helping of denial that the much-reviled “Obamacare” reforms have already begun contributing to the reduction of the deficit. (And sure enough, just before the 38th vote by Boehner’s GOP House majority to repeal the Affordable Care Act, batcrap-crazy Michelle Bachmann stepped up to the mic to conflate Benghazi hysteria with what she considers Obamacare’s “government overreach.”)
Shades of Casablanca! The GOP is “shocked — SHOCKED!” that the IRS would use seemingly underhanded tactics against an administration’s political enemies. Never mind that the IRS has employed similar tactics during Republican administrations — or that it is the agency’s job to investigate tax-exempt groups that appear to be pursuing primarily political goals.
Not that conservative groups are the only culprits. Both Republican and Democratic super-PACs have exhibited a penchant for flouting the rules that govern assignment of tax-exempt status (although it’s the proliferation of applications by conservative groups that has attracted so much recent IRS attention).
Both camps have been guilty of exploiting the laxity and chaos created by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, taking advantage of the confusion to set up political organs that masquerade as “social welfare” groups —and, as 501 (c)(4)s,are able to raise stupendous sums of money without being required to disclose the identities of their donors.
Yet while John Boehner, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and Rush Limbaugh rant on, blowing the brouhaha out of all reasonable proportion, they conveniently ignore the fact that during Dubya’s tenure, the agency went after liberal organizations, including the NAACP, Greenpeace, and a progressive Pasadena church.
* * *
Is this triple threat a tempest in a teapot? Not necessarily, but journalists can bet their White House press passes that members of the GOP/wingnut media circus will flog it for all they’re worth, right up to Election Day 2014.
The Obama team has swung into damage control mode. At the IRS, one head has rolled, although likely not the right one. The president is no longer calling the Benghazi hearings “a sideshow,” and though he’s offered no apology for the DOJ’s AP snooping, he has cynically attempted to “make nice” by proposing a dead-in-the-water federal journalist shield law that the president of the Society of Professional Journalists has branded “a blatantly political move.”
Meanwhile, the Bobbleheads babble randomly and pose nonsensical paradoxes. “Is the president too passive and too reactive?” one pundit asked another. Is Obama “Nixonian”? Has “the narrative” undergone a sea change, or is this just “same-old, same-old”? Does the Obama White House have a “transparency issue”? Is the right merely proposing “retreads”?
Is there really no “there” there?
At this early stage in the game, I’ve been able to make neither elephant’s trunks nor donkey’s asses of this mind-boggling travesty. So I decided to toss the “three-headed hydra” (salutations to MSNBC’s Alex Wagner) into an acronym salad in verse, served up with extra-tart vinaigrette dressing. (My humblest apologies to Calvin Trillin, who uses longer lines to much better effect — and nails both rhyme and meter every time.)
No ‘There’ There
How to handle?
Doesn’t daunt me.
“I just heard it
Same day you did.”
Who disclosed it?
“Don’t know who did.”
He’s no fool.
Spoils for fight.
All they see:
“Who’s going to jail?”
Iced for me.
What a mess!
Nixon did this?
Couldn’t care less.
Rand Paul’s irate.
“No there there.”
POTUS steps up,
Doesn’t fess up.
Don’t know what
To make of this.
To back down,
So POTUS loses.
Term Two derailed.
White House snoozes: