The loyal opposition is beginning to get it – no one sees them as loyal anymore, except to a steadily shrinking minority of old white guys, mainly from the South, with guns, and loyal to a few grumpy billionaires with a grudge and a scattering of senior corporate officers. They’re just the opposition now, opposed to most everything all the polling shows America is just fine with – legal abortion, gay marriage, a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who want to live here and work here and pay taxes here, no more random wars to radically reshape the entire world, keeping Medicare and Social Security pretty much just the way they are, and asking the rich to chip in a bit more in taxes and not game the system and park their millions offshore. We did have an election about all that – all of that – and they lost. It’s over. As the menacing robot has said in many a science fiction movie, resistance is futile. Obama laid that out in his inauguration speech at the start of his second term – discussed in detail here – but the whole thing was pretty simple. The people have spoken on all these matters. Deal with it, as constructively as you can, or get out of the damned way.
It’s a tough situation. The Republicans lost the presidency two times in a row, failed to regain control of the Senate when everyone thought they would, lost House seats, and with all the polling now against them, the thought was that at least they could force spending cuts to end the government as we know it, the one that does useful things, by refusing to authorize raising the debt ceiling, thus forcing the nation to default on all its payments and blowing up the world’s economy for many generations, unless they got their way. That might work. The government would be crippled forever and Americans would finally be free men again.
Saner members talked them down, and those grumpy billionaires with a grudge and that scattering of senior corporate officers were appalled by the very idea too, so they settled for suspending the debt limit for a few months – it just wouldn’t apply. This was a quite baroque scheme with many tricky interlocking subtleties – but it was a plan and the Republican-controlled House actually passed it – which meant they raised the debt limit without extracting even one tiny concession on spending. They lost, even if they pretended they won. Their own budget guru, Paul Ryan, explained that he simply had to help members “recognize the realities” of divided government – that’s when you really didn’t win it all, no matter what you pretend. Guys, listen up, give up on the debt limit fight – and besides, threatening to blow up the world’s economy is an empty threat. No one is going to do that. No one is that dumb.
There was a lot of resentful grumbling, but they knew Ryan was right, and Democrats and the White House were fine with this. Playing hardball, saying there’d be no spending-cuts negotiations on the debt limit – pass it or don’t – had worked. They know that in three months, when this comes up again, the Republicans will cave again. Threatening to blow up the world’s economy will always be an empty threat – and such a threat makes them look like idiots too, which they know well now. Add too that a growing number of business big-wigs and most major economists are saying that it’s time to scrap the whole debt-limit mechanism – it was only a stopgap accounting shortcut in the first place anyway, long ago. The flood of such talk must be maddening to Republicans.
It’s all falling apart. They know this. That’s what must have made Obama’s inauguration speech at the start of his second term so galling to them. They must have listened, gritting their teeth and seething, as Obama essentially said look at the election results, look at the polling – no one trusts you guys to protect their economic interests, or to protect their personal freedom to do what they think it’s best to do. Get with the program or get left behind. Immigration reform is coming, and maybe a bit of gun control, and women will get to make their own decisions about their own bodies, and get equal pay too, and the rich will indeed have to pay a bit more in taxes, and the government will invest in education and infrastructure and basic healthcare for all. Get used to your gay neighbors too. Get used to math and science too – everyone else thinks both are quite useful. You might even have to learn a bit of Spanish too – just a few friendly phrases, to show a little respect for others. In short, get over it.
That’s easier said than done:
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he believes the primary goal of President Obama’s second term is to “annihilate the Republican Party.”
“Given what we heard yesterday about the president’s vision for his second term, it’s pretty clear to me that he knows he can’t do any of that as long as the House is controlled by Republicans,” Boehner said in a speech Tuesday to The Ripon Society. “So we’re expecting over the next 22 months to be the focus of this administration as they attempt to annihilate the Republican Party.
“And let me just tell you, I do believe that is their goal – to just shove us into the dustbin of history.”
John Boehner is feeling alone and besieged. This has the flavor of King Leonidas leading the Three Hundred Spartans – the House Republicans – into battle against the Persian god-King Xerxes and his army of more than three-hundred thousand – in this case everyone else in America. Try not to think of the recent homoerotic movie about that historic event – unless you can imagine John Boehner in sandals a tiny white toga, well-oiled and sweaty and ripped. No, Boehner was just saying the real problem is the debt crisis, even if most economists see that going away all on its own as the economy recovers. Boehner doesn’t believe that. The idea is that all the other stuff – immigration reform and gun control and so on – is relatively insignificant, in fact, almost laughably insignificant. America has its priorities all wrong, but the few and the brave, the House Republicans, don’t – and he vows he’s “up for the fight.”
Of course he is, but the most interesting part of this is how he says he’ll fight:
Boehner urged his conservative colleagues to be prudent in picking their political battles, something that wasn’t a trademark of Republicans in the 112th Congress.
“We’re going to have to make some big decisions about how we as a party take on this challenge. Where’s the ground that we fight on? Where’s the ground that we retreat on? Where are the smart fights? Where are the dumb fights that we have to stay away from? We’ve got a lot of big decisions to make.”
Okay, he’s not an idiot. No one ever said he was, and he won’t assist in his own annihilation, but some things are easier said than done. After all, this was the day that the Republicans, first in the Senate and then in the House, decided it was time to rake Hillary Clinton over the coals about Benghazi:
A combative Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday fended off fierce interrogations from senators and House members in congressional hearings illuminating the brutal Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. Consulate in Libya that left a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans dead.
Clinton, who testified before a Senate panel in the morning and a House panel later in the day, also promised to improve security for State Department officials in North Africa and around the world following the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi.
“I take responsibility,” Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “Nobody is more committed to getting this right. I am determined to leave the State Department and our country safer, stronger and more secure.”
If you’re going to pick your fights, to prove to America that you are the party to be trusted on everything, not those other guys, this might have been the wrong fight to pick. It’s not just that Hillary Clinton’s approval ratings are sky high – higher than every other public figure in America other than Chris Christie – and Republican approval ratings are in the cellar – historic lows, actually – it’s that this was a battle already lost.
What happened in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, was awful – but what actually happened is still not clear even now. Nevertheless, that evening, Mitt Romney jumped right in and excoriated Obama because a low-level worker at the embassy in Cairo, hundreds of miles to the east, had released a statement, earlier in the day, denouncing that amateurish video mocking Islam, in hopes of staving off the street riots that might come. The riots happened anyway, and Romney decided the earlier Cairo statement had been issued by the administration itself, and had actually been issued after what happened in Benghazi. It was an apology of some sort, because Obama is always apologizing for America, and Mitt Romney would never do that. This was before anyone knew our people had been killed, so that was a little awkward, as was the fact that Romney had everything wrong, or charitably, out of sequence.
For a day and a half Romney remained all stiff and righteous, saying he certainly did have his facts right and in perfect proper sequence, but then he fell silent. Most of the press, except for Fox News, gently and carefully reported what had actually happened, step by step. They didn’t call Romney a liar and a fool and a repulsive opportunist ghoul – they only said this is what happened and this is what Mitt Romney said, and cut to commercial. The damage was done. Romney moved on.
There was a parallel track regarding Obama directly. How anyone could vote for that evil man who essentially murdered our ambassador to Libya and those three others with him, by ordering our military to stand down and let the bad guys kill them all, because Obama always sides with the terrorists, or more charitably, because he was in over his head and froze. That was the line on Fox News and Rush Limbaugh’s show and nowhere else at all. There was no evidence that Obama did anything of the kind and it soon became clear everyone involved did the best they could, as fast as they could. The evidence of that poured on and piled up. Those few on the right quietly dropped this notion – even Rush Limbaugh.
This wasn’t going well. To that point the Republicans had only proved one thing – they were bad at playing exploitive hardball. You don’t get to make things up, particularly when our folks are dead – but then they tried again with Susan Rice.
Thursday, December 13, Susan Rice was the big story of the day. She withdrew her name for consideration to replace Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The Republicans, notably John McCain and Lindsey Graham, had their victory in sandbagging her. After that attack in Benghazi, where our ambassador was killed, she had gone on all those Sunday talk shows and given the CIA and NSA approved talking-points on what had happened, saying at the time this looked like a spontaneous attack that had been hijacked by some very bad actors who had been planning something all along, not al-Qaeda, or so it seemed at the time, and this was the scandal that did her in. As our United Nations ambassador she had nothing to do with any specific events in North Africa, making no decisions about anything and just getting the briefings like anyone else, and she had simply drawn the short straw to be the one to visit all the Sunday shows and present the carefully-worded action report, carefully worded because our spooks and spies were still following leads and didn’t want any bad guys to know we were onto them – but McCain led the charge to excoriate her. He said everyone knew it was al-Qaeda that did this, and she was either lying or too stupid to see that, and the Republicans would block the nomination of anyone who was a craven liar or so very stupid.
Yes, it was all nonsense and posturing, and too stupid for words, but Susan Rice decided it was best to throw in the towel. Some fights aren’t worth fighting, and the administration really didn’t need to waste its time with the farce this had become. Obama reluctantly agreed with her and the Republicans smiled at their victory. There was, however, a real possibility that this had been Obama’s plan all along – give those guys their little victory so they’ll be easier to deal with on taxing the rich a bit more while not decimating Medicare and Social Security in the fiscal cliff haggling. Give them something, at no real cost at all, that they can use to mollify their rabid base. They may have been cleverly outmaneuvered once again.
You’d think they would have learned. All this Benghazi stuff didn’t work before the election – most everyone recoiled at their crass and repulsive initial accusations, and then didn’t see the point of going after that woman who had nothing to do with the actual events at all. Revisiting all this would be dangerous, particularly when going up against the first-string star. Yes, but that didn’t stop them, and then they got beat up again:
Clinton bristled at claims that the administration misled the public by initially linking the attack to a protest that spiraled out of control.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, said “a simple phone call” to people in Benghazi “would have established immediately” that there was no protest. “Why wasn’t that known?” he asked.
Clinton said State Department officials decided it was not appropriate to talk to U.S. officials in Benghazi before the FBI conducted their interviews. Pressed further on why that call wasn’t made, Clinton erupted in anger.
“With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans,” she said. “Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night and decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator.”
Ron Johnson looked like a fool. This really was too stupid for words. There was real work to do:
An Independent Accountability Review Board appointed by the State Department concluded that “systemic failures” left the consulate in Benghazi inadequately protected and confirmed that no protest preceded the deadly attack. In a report released in December, the board recommended that the State Department strengthen security in high-risk posts.
Clinton told the committee she has asked a deputy secretary to lead a task force to ensure that all 29 of the panel’s recommendations are implemented quickly and completely – and to pursue “additional steps above and beyond” those in the board’s report.
“Benghazi did not happen in a vacuum,” Clinton said. The instability brought on by the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 has expanded the reach of extremists across North Africa, she said.
There’s work to do, even if you want to prove Mitt Romney should have won the election, or John McCain should have won the election before that. Neither did. That’s a moot point. Do you want to talk about what happened in Benghazi and what we need to do now, or not?
It went on and on like this – Salon’s Joan Walsh has more details if posturing amuses you. This really isn’t the greatest tragedy since 9/11 and Hillary Clinton isn’t guilty of murder again, if you followed that nutty Vince Foster story long ago – it was just the Republicans picking their fights carefully, and very badly. Obama isn’t out to annihilate the Republican Party. They’re assisting in their own annihilation.
Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog does point out the other view:
They have what they want: a soundbite they can rip from context and use as a cudgel to beat the administration and Secretary Clinton with. I’m not sure if they really expect their efforts to color mainstream coverage of this story, but it’s clear that that’s what they’re hoping. They have a new “you didn’t build that” – a new “spread the wealth around” – and they’re going to wring everything they can out of it.
It was that exchange with Ron Johnson on why details about the nature of the attack weren’t released sooner:
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans, was it because of a protest, or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It’s our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. Now, honestly, I will do my best to answer your questions about this. The fact is that people were trying, in real time, to get to the best information.
Steve M and everyone else knew what she was saying:
The point of this is: Look, bad guys killed our people. You’re arguing about whether the nature of the attack was initially mischaracterized. I just want the bad guys found and brought to justice, no matter how the attack unfolded.
Yes, but those words were there – “What difference, at this point, does it make?” Steve M lists all those who ripped the context away and were appalled – the National Review and Fox News and The Wall Street Journal and The Weekly Standard and Glenn Beck’s Blaze and Michelle Malkin in Twitchy and the Free Beacon and Breitbart – and he also notes that now there’s now a popular hashtag – #whatdifferencedoesitmake.
That’s quite a list and he adds this:
Now, sometimes these things never attain any more than shibboleth status – they’re secret code words right-wingers use whenever they talk about a particular Antichrist of theirs. This will definitely attain that status – years from now, when Hillary publishes her memoirs or announces a run for president, folks on winger message boards will write “What difference does it make?” and not even bother to put the phrase in context, because all the like-minded readers will just know…
But sometimes these things do more damage. Sometimes they really do color how a story is covered outside the right-wing bubble. Will that happen this time? Will the wingers be able to turn this decontextualized soundbite into a deceptive sign of Secretary Clinton’s indifference?
Yeah, probably, as that’s what these guys do. The entire Republican convention in Tampa had one theme – “Yes, we DID built that!” Imagine a bunch of old white guys dressed as George Washington, carrying assault rifles, walking around and shouting out that they’ve never driven on a government road or walked on a government sidewalk. Of course it wasn’t that nutty, but Clint Eastwood did have a conversation with an invisible imaginary Barack Obama in an empty chair. The trouble here is that a very real Hillary Clinton showed up, and she wasn’t taking any crap from these guys.
No one should. The loyal opposition ceased being loyal long ago. Now they’re just the opposition, and they’re not even very good at that, and it does seem they are annihilating themselves, step by step.
John Boehner was wrong. Obama had nothing to do with this.