Maybe Georgia Republicans were right after all; maybe Obama really does a Marvel-comics-like mind control ray. How else does one explain the obliviously self-destructive actions of Rand Paul and the entire right-wing media machine this past week?
Last week had been shaping up so nicely for the opposition party. The IRS, long-time scourge of conservatives (and let’s be honest, pretty much everyone else at one time or another) was forced to apologize for targeting conservative non-profit organizations during an election year. Then the Associated Press discovered that not only were their phone calls being monitored by the Justice Department, their very movements were being tracked as well. Neither of these scandals has been directly attached to the President, but both provided conservatives with ammunition to use against the White House with the very two constituencies any president needs in order to forward an agenda: taxpayers and the press. Added bonus: liberal pundits and bloggers seemed happy to hand the GOP political ammunition, tripping over themselves to say that there was nothing at all wrong with the IRS specifically targeting conservative citizens.
In an alternate universe, the GOP and the right-wing media machine would have sat back and let the left continue to shoot themselves in the foot, much as the left did with the Bush administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina. In that universe, conservatives would have simply watched as the White House and the Justice Department vacillated between the political poisons of being caught over-reacting with their spying on the press, or admitting that their own leaks had truly jeopardized national security. In that universe, Republican pols and pundits would have held their tongue as White House aides and liberal cable news anchors told independents and moderates that there was nothing wrong with their team targeting those citizen-run non-profits with whom they disagreed. GOPers need not have even pointed out that those same aides and anchors would have cried bloody murder had the previous administration been caught doing the same; independents and moderates would have filled in those blanks all by themselves. In that universe, scandals like these could have had a negative impact on the president’s popularity, which might well have led to Republican gains in 2014 or even – dare I say – 2016.
In this universe, the President’s popularity remains as strong as it was before either scandal broke. I would argue that this has much to do with the right’s continued insistence on valuing Fox News and talk radio ratings over politics and governance. How else do you explain them using the events of last week to shine a strong light on Benghazi?
Seriously, conservatives need to wake up and realize that Benghazi just isn’t the scandal they so desperately want it to be. First of all, it’s almost impossible to know what would have happened if at any point during its timeline the White House would have called things differently. And even if you could, it wouldn’t matter politically. Voters tend to sympathize with Presidents who have to make quick, Kobayashi Maru decisions with events on foreign soil. Even if you could prove that events would have gone better had the administration not juked when they should have jived (and you can’t), the public will be very, very forgiving. (See: 2004 Election and Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction as a relevant example.)
But even if there was some remote possibility that conservatives could have stoked outrage in moderates and independents over Benghazi, that ship has long since sailed and sunk. The only thing that could make Benghazi more useless as national election fodder would be if Republicans were caught falsifying the contents of easily verifiable administration emails in order to score conservative media ratings.
Mind you, there were some GOP political leaders that rang the bell with the IRS scandal. It’s just that they might as well have been working for Obama.
This weekend Rand Paul went on CNN and claimed that the IRS actually has a written policy instructing its employees to target “people opposed to the President.” That’s a pretty damning accusation to make, and it’s one that is sure to be brought up for countless hours on Fox news and talk radio. It might even be enough to heavily damage Obama, save one small thing: this written policy that IRS agents everywhere rely on? Apparently it’s one that Paul has not actually, you know, seen. He’s heard about it of course, (though he can’t say from who), but he just can’t get his hands on it. (Because really, how could one expect to get their hands on a written policy statement that steers a federal government department that employs around 100,000 people?)
What the fish was Paul thinking?
I’ve made this point before, (in fact, I’ve done a whole series on it), but as long as conservatives place media ratings over governance this is the kind of hole they’re going to continue to dig for themselves. Fictional emails and phantom written policy statements make for great talk radio, but they make those that trumpet them look like crazy conspiracy theorists to everyone not currently drinking the Kool Aid. With today’s conservative pols and pundits, it’s simply not enough for the Obama administration to be caught making a mistake. Everything has to be blown up into a ridiculous, over the top, bad-Dan-Brown-novel global conspiracy that threatens the very fabric of our nation and freedom itself. Every tiny press release made by anyone ever has to be extrapolated into a public argument for impeachment.
Addressing the actual errors made by any administration is usually a ratings loser. They’re almost always committed by upper management not paying enough attention to middle management, they’re usually a little embarrassing but not overly harmful, and they’re almost always made with the best of intentions – not out of some nefarious plot to destroy America. They’re usually kind of boring, really. Staying on top of them in a calm, reasoned and rational fashion may not get people tuning in day after day, but doing so in a professional manner can eventually make those errors add up in a way that makes voters hesitate before renewing the reigns of power at the ballot box. Acting like an Onion parody over every little thing may get a small subset of people to tune into your radio show religiously, but it also makes you look like an Onion parody to just about everyone else.
If conservatives were smart, they’d let go of their “”I guess liberals think Bush should have controlled the weather” cluelessness and review exactly why Katrina was so devastating for the Bush administration. It would be instructive. If they learn their lesson wisely, they may find that the next misstep by the White House could turn into the next Katrina, rather than yet another excuse not to vote GOP in 2016.