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[A concerned reader – who is also a close relative of mine – emailed me regarding my last post, about the  vacant, ephemeral nature of the recent scandals, and the Ezra Klein article I used to support my assertions. In the email he expressed some doubt as to the veracity of Klein’s claims (I believe the phrase used was “full of shit”), and made it clear that it was crazy to claim there had been no wrongdoing in any of these instances. The email got me thinking and made me want to better clarify the original post, in something like an addendum.]

In my previous post, I definitely didn’t mean to imply that there was no wrongdoing at all – there were some IRS agents in Cincinnati who were certainly in the wrong in way overstepping their discretion prerogatives, and perhaps some of their superiors as well for allowing it to happen, and there were some employees of the Justice Department who clearly violated black and white regulations that are meant to protect the press. I can barely tell what the Benghazi debate is even about these days – there was a question of why the main embassy could not fulfill a request to spare four soldiers to help the consulate ahead of the incident, but its not clear that would have made any difference, and anyway the main accusations have shifted from the actual incident to what the White House said about the incident, like whether the word terrorist was actually used, for example, so I suppose there might be some low level bureaucratic wrongdoing there.

My overall point was that, based on current information, the impropriety of any of these scandals didn’t even expand to the White House, much less Obama himself. The question of his involvement needed to be asked at first, and it has been, and the evidence has shown the administration had little to do with any of it. Many pundits have taken this defense as an opportunity to slam Obama for the opposite sort of conduct, saying that he is too aloof, too uninvolved, too uninterested in his own government, which may have some amount of merit, but the way the argument came about does a lot to denigrate its credibility, and to what level it exists at all it is a separate issue (and it’s not just the right taking up this argument, but some on the left too – here’s an example, and here’s another one).

I think the focus surrounding these scandals stems from the premise that some people dislike Obama so much that they think he must be guilty of everything he is accused of. There are plenty of worthwhile things to criticize the man for, without saying every worst fear about him must be true, as some in Congress have done. People can keep looking, and even hoping, for something to go catastrophically wrong with his presidency, but this isn’t it, and my bet is that his presidency won’t go down in anything but overreaching, maybe arrogance, and mild neophytism.

As of today, even Newt Gingrich and some other top Republicans have offered a similar argument to what I was trying to say, and on NPR no less (here).

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was front-and-center during the Republican-led impeachment of President Clinton in 1998, is cautioning his GOP colleagues about the risk of appearing to be too eager as they dig into the scandals now dogging the Obama administration.“I think we overreached in ’98 — how’s that for a quote you can use?” Gingrich told NPR’s Mara Liasson for a story on Friday’s broadcast of Morning Edition.

And:

Gingrich’s view about how Republicans should proceed echoes those expressed by other GOP leaders in a piece published Thursday evening by Politico:“Republicans are worried one thing could screw up the political gift of three Obama administration controversies at once: fellow Republicans.“Top GOP leaders are privately warning members to put a sock in it when it comes to silly calls for impeachment or over-the-top comparisons to Watergate. They want members to focus on months of fact-finding investigations — not rhetorical fury.”

The Politico article contains another an interesting perspective. It looks like even most Congressional Republicans (and even a Fox News pundit) agree that the calls for Obama’s resignation and the comparisons to Watergate are preposterous, an example of overreaching. And that was my main point: these scandals are largely a result of overreaching in an effort to condemn Obama by people who hate him, and contain far less actual wrongdoing and effectual substance than is being claimed.

“Scandal” seems to be the watchword of politics lately, and if you’re to believe the mainstream media it seems that the only things being done in Washington this week are either the discovery of new scandals, or the reactions to/investigations of already-discovered scandals. But despite what would appear to be a plethora of wrongdoing in our current government, the whole things is a farce, devoid of any substance. As Ezra Klein wrote for the Washington Post, “absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don’t seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don’t reach high enough.” Scandals require “the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions.” So far, the reality of each scandal does not suggest this is the case.

Benghazi is the biggest farce, as the scandal surrounding a truly tragic incident has devolved into being not actually about anything. No one is arguing anything important to the actual event, or even anything important to the administration’s reaction to the event. The worst thing Obama has stood accused of – and it’s worth noting that this is still in dispute, and in some places has disintegrated into an argument over semantics – is not calling the incident an act of “terror” soon enough. It has also come down to accusations that the administration may have “air-brushed” its talking points, and its accusers are grasping so hard and reaching so far as to call this a more significant event than Watergate, and saying Obama will eventually have to resign, which makes their argument even more preposterous. Klein writes:

We’re long past the point where it’s obvious what the Benghazi scandal is supposed to be about. The inquiry has moved on from the events in Benghazi proper, tragic as they were, to the talking points about the events in Benghazi. And the release Wednesday night of 100 pages of internal e-mails on those talking points seems to show what my colleague Glenn Kessler suspected: This was a bureaucratic knife fight between the State Department and the CIA.

As for the White House’s role, well, the e-mails suggest there wasn’t much of one. “The internal debate did not include political interference from the White House, according to the e-mails, which were provided to congressional intelligence committees several months ago,” report The Washington Post’s Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung.

The AP phone records scandal, while not as preposterous, does not actually include any wrongdoing or law-breaking. While this is true – and, in fact, because its true – what is troubling in this case is that something like this could happen without a law being broken. As a Washington Post heading stated, “the real scandal is what’s legal.” It seems like something must have gone wrong here. But from a legal standpoint, using this as an attack on the Obama administration does not hold water. Again from Klein:

This is the weirdest of the three [scandals]. There’s no evidence that the DoJ did anything illegal. Most people, in fact, think it was well within its rights to seize the phone records of Associated Press reporters. And if the Obama administration has been overzealous in prosecuting leakers, well, the GOP has been arguing that the White House hasn’t taken national security leaks seriously enough. The AP/DoJ fight has caused that position to flip, and now members of Congress are concerned that the DoJ is going after leaks too aggressively. But it’s hard for a political party to prosecute wrongdoing when they disagree with the potential remedies.

Insofar as there’s a “scandal” here, it’s more about what is legal than what isn’t. The DoJ simply has extraordinary power, under existing law, to spy on ordinary citizens — members of the media included. The White House is trying to change existing law by encouraging Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce the Media Shield Act. The Post’s Rachel Weiner has a good rundown of what the bill would do. It’s likely that the measure’s national security exemption would make it relatively toothless in this particular case, but if Congress is worried, they always can — and probably should — take that language out. Still, that legislation has been killed by Republicans before, and it’s likely to be killed by them again.

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Ezra Klein – who is generally a little more leftwardly-extremist than I care for – has made an interesting point. From the Washington Post:

As I understand it, the GOP has five basic goals in the budget talks:

1) Cut the deficit.

2) Cut entitlement spending.

3) Protect defense spending, and possibly even increase it.

4) Simplify the tax code by cleaning out deductions and loopholes.

5) Lower tax rates.

The White House is willing to cut a deal with Republicans that will accomplish 1, 2, 3 and 4. But Republicans don’t want that deal. They’d prefer the sequester to that deal. That means they will get less on 1, basically nothing 2, 4, and 5, and they will actively hurt themselves on 3. So, rather than accomplishing four of their five goals, they’re accomplishing part of one. Some trade.

I’ve asked some Republicans sources to explain their thinking to me. But none of the answers quite seems to add up.

One answer is that they’re hoping the sequester gives them so much leverage that the Democrats fold and accept an equivalent or larger package of spending cuts that Republicans prefer. But I can’t find any Republicans who actually believe that will happen.

Another explanation is that Republicans don’t want to cut tax deductions now — which is the key to any deal with the Democrats — because they want to use those deductions to pay for rate-lowering tax reform. But if they’re not open to new revenues, they’re not getting rate-lowering tax reform while President Obama remains in office. And if they take power after Obama leaves office, they can just lower tax rates without paying for it, as they’ve done many times before.

A third answer is that the anti-tax pledge holds that cutting deductions to reduce the deficit is a tax increase, and Republicans won’t vote for a tax increase, even if it results in a policy outcome they vastly prefer. In other words, it’s ratio-myopia.

And perhaps that’s the real answer. But it’s a bit hard to believe. Perhaps I’m missing something?

As has been said before, this new Republican party never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

The Republican establishment is reasserting control. It’s purging some of the hucksters who’d taken the party’s reins — or at least the airtime — in recent years. It’s resisting much of the brinkmanship that marked the last Congress and trying to present a more fearsome, united front against counterproductive strategies favored by the right. All of the major 2016 presidential contenders have made the same political calculation: It’s better to build a reputation as one of the party’s adults than as one of its firebrands.

Just don’t call this process moderation. The Republican Party isn’t reinventing itself so much as reverting to its previous form. There’s little evidence of a rethinking of core Republican policy ideas.

– Ezra Klein, as reported at Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire.

A typically excellent post today on The Politics Blog with Charlie Pierce at Esquire.com, describing the current dissolutive state of the Republican (anti-)party, and why Speaker Boehner has been put in the impossible situation he is in (after last night’s spectacular failure, which was doomed from the start).

There is no possible definition by which the Republicans can be considered an actual political party any more. They can be defined as a loose universe of inchoate hatreds, or a sprawling confederation of collected resentments, or an unwieldy conglomeration of self-negating orthodoxies, or an atonal choir of rabid complaint, or a cargo cult of quasi-religious politics and quasi-political religion, or simply the deafening abandoned YAWP of our bitter national Id. But they are not a political party because they have  rendered themselves incapable of politics.

Need a minute? I do. Even if you don’t, can we just pause for a minute and bask in the warm, delicious glow of that most excellent and profound exercise of metaphor? As after eating a good steak, I am full, sated, and satisfied.

Last night, [Boehner] couldn’t get the votes to pass a truly horrid plutocrat’s wet dream. He couldn’t get the votes to gut Obamacare or Wall Street reform. He couldn’t get the votes to throw children off food stamps and he couldn’t get the votes to throw the elderly off meals-on-wheels. He couldn’t get the votes for a simple, vicious stunt.  He couldn’t  get the votes because he couldn’t budge enough Republicans to support a tax increase in the upper .01 percent of taxpayers. He couldn’t do it because he had nothing with which to threaten people who look on governing the country as though they are running an evening-drive talk-radio program in Bugtussle. He couldn’t do it because he is a Republican pretending to be a fanatic who went hat in hand to a bunch of fanatics pretending to be Republicans.

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