Official White House photo
There are very few developments the political world cherishes more than a White House scandal. They invariably include months of endless drama and intrigue. Congressional scandals are nice, as far as they go, but they're a poor substitute.
And as Paul Waldman explained well yesterday, the bizarre Republican rhetoric surrounding the politics of the Benghazi attack reinforce a larger truth: President Obama hasn't had a legitimate scandal yet, and it's making his detractors antsy.
If you're looking at the Republican harumphing over Benghazi and asking yourself, "Why are we supposed to be so mad about this again?" you're not alone. Let's review: There was an attack on our consulate that killed four Americans, including our ambassador. Amid confusing and contradictory reports from the ground, President Obama waited too long to utter the magic incantation, "Terrorism, terrorists, terror!" that would have ... well, it would have done something, but it turns out that he did say "terror," so never mind that. But that's not the real scandal! The real scandal is that Susan Rice went on television soon after and amid all kinds of "based on the best information we have"s and "we'll have to see"s, said one thing that turned out not to be the case: that after the protests in Cairo, there was some kind of copycat protest in Benghazi, which was then "hijacked" by extremist elements using heavy weapons to stage an attack.
A sane person might say, OK, she was obviously given some incorrect information at that time, but it's not a particularly meaningful deception. As people have been pointing out for weeks now, it's not as though not using the word "terror" or saying there was a protest before the attack gave the White House some enormous political advantage. If you're going to have a cover-up, there has to be something you're covering up.
So what's behind the baseless accusations, unhinged conspiracy theories, and calls for a Watergate-style investigation? Waldman sums it up in two words: "scandal envy."
Republicans thought they had something with the job offer to Joe Sestak (remember the calls for an FBI special prosecutor?). Then maybe the "Fast & Furious" matter. Or maybe Solyndra. Now Benghazi.
Each of these stories was immediately compared to Watergate, and each failed to point to any wrongdoing whatsoever by the president or the White House.
Part of the underlying cause for the apoplexy on the right is that they're certain President Obama is a radical criminal up to no good, which means there must be some kind of scandal somewhere. That nothing has turned up, ironically, only reinforces suspicions -- since Obama has run a scandal-free administration it means he must be hiding something awful.
Kevin Drum had a good take on this.
Yep. They're just convinced that Obama runs a gang of Chicago thugs who are lying and cheating behind the scenes at every opportunity. It's a foundational story on the tea-party right. Unfortunately, the reality is that whatever else you think of Obama, he's one of the straightest arrows we've had in the White House since ... forever. He runs a tight ship organizationally, and on a personal level he's so intolerant of personal peccadilloes that he sometimes seems almost inhuman. It would be astonishing if he could actually avoid a serious scandal for an entire eight-year term, but if anyone can do it, it's probably Obama.
And yes, it's driving Republicans crazy.
Nixon had Watergate; Reagan had Iran-Contra; Clinton had Lewinsky; Bush had more scandals than he knew what to do with (Plame, US Attorney purge, torture, etc.); and Obama just isn't cooperating in the scandal department. His critics aren't wearing their desperation well.
I'd just add one thing to keep in mind going forward: the boy who cried wolf didn't do himself any favors. For Republicans to scream "Watergate!" and set their hair on fire every time there's even a hint of a controversy that kinda sorta might involve the administration, they're undermining their own credibility.
With this in mind, if/when there's a legitimate scandal involving the Obama White House, and Republicans once again go berserk, there will be plenty of folks who simply roll their eyes, tired of the faux outrage and manufactured controversies that never pan out. They'll say, "No, no, this time there really is a wolf," and many will respond, "We've heard it all before."