The late Rollo May was an existential psychologist – whatever that means. It was May and Viktor Frankl saying all inner conflict within a person is due to that individual’s confrontation with the givens of existence. Life’s a bitch and it really can get to you, so it’s not your fault. Inner conflict might be appropriate. May was also a close friend of the philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich – so add God to the mix. It’s damned hard to figure out what’s going on and what it all means, and God isn’t saying much – so you’re on your own. Call it freedom. Choose what you choose to believe, and what you choose to do – but choose carefully. Rollo May defined our odd freedom this way – “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.”
The two key elements here are our capacity to pause, to step back or step away from what everyone else says is urgent and the most important thing ever, and our response – a decision to throw our weight behind something or other, but framed as a wish, a sort of whim perhaps. Yes, but you cannot make that decision with that all-important pause – that’s the only freedom anyone has these days. Don’t get caught up in the current urgency. That probably means avoiding Fox News.
Pausing is easier said than done. Sometimes it has to be done for you, and here that meant stepping back from these daily columns, as a rather stupid injury needed attention. On the other hand that “twilight” anesthesia was mighty fine. Perhaps the surgery went well, but it’s hard to tell when you’re elsewhere, so to speak. Cool – and what everyone else was saying is urgent and the most important thing ever was also elsewhere. Step back or step away and none of it may seem all that urgent. The only thing to do is step back in and take a look. Maybe the truly urgent can be separated from posturing about nothing much at all.
That wasn’t to be, as Slate’s John Dickerson explains here:
In the past couple weeks in interviews with House and Senate staffers for the Republican leadership, there has been a depressing message: Nothing is going to get done for the next four years. Again and again, the same mantra could be heard. Partisanship and election jockeying for 2014 and 2016 is going to keep everything locked up.
Watching the live feed from the White House on Friday it became hard to argue otherwise. President Obama held an event with mothers defending the Affordable Care Act, the start of a month’s long effort to protect his signature achievement, which Republicans have promised to fight all the way to the 2014 elections and beyond. Then, shortly thereafter, White House press secretary Jay Carney jumped between answering questions about the administration’s response to the attacks in Benghazi to the Internal Revenue Service targeting the Tea Party and other conservative political groups for audits.
It’s going to take some time to get to the bottom of these controversies, but we can conclude the pessimists are probably right. Nothing is going to get done in this siege environment.
So repealing Obamacare is the most urgent thing in the world, or revisiting that Benghazi business once again, for the fortieth time or so, and the IRS has been picking on the Tea Party, which is the outrage of all outrages. It doesn’t seem so after a week of dealing with doctors and nurses and one really cool x-ray technician who blasted Miles Davis recordings as he took the images. Dickerson sums up the political world that’s still there, now made worse by the new Benghazi hearings and that IRS mess.
As for Obamacare, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell announced that Republicans would not be naming any members to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, the IPAB, that fifteen-member agency created in 2010 by the Affordable Care Act, charged with making recommendations for ways to cut the cost of Medicare. They won’t participate in death panels, or something, and at the National Review, Wesley Smith was in seventh heaven:
Way to go! The next step is to use Senate confirmation hearings to educate the American people about why the IPAB is un-American and shatters representative democracy. Pound it, pound it, pound it! Then, Republicans and commonsense Democrats in the Senate should refuse to confirm any nominated members to the board, using a filibuster if necessary. After that, defunding and eventual repeal!
Kevin Drum is a bit amazed:
It’s now un-American for a government agency to be tasked with controlling costs in a government program. Is this because controlling costs is un-American? Is this because appointed commissions are un-American? Smith doesn’t say. But apparently it’s now conservative dogma that the only patriotic way Medicare costs can be reined in is by voucherizing the program. Nothing else is tolerable.
Of course, as a number of people have pointed out, this move doesn’t prevent IPAB from working. If the Senate doesn’t confirm anyone to the board, it just means that the HHS secretary has to make cost-cutting proposals on her own if Medicare grows faster than allowed. So what’s the point? Pretty obviously, it’s to make sure that if Medicare is cut in any way, Republicans can blame it solely and completely on Democrats.
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your fiscally responsible Republican Party. Keep all this in mind the next time you hear them yammering on about how critical entitlement reform is and how our spiraling deficits are imperiling the country.
Add to that the fact that the Affordable Care Act is now law – passed by both the House and Senate and signed by Obama, and declared quite constitutional by the Supreme Court, almost three years ago. These guys lost. What’s the point of all this?
As for the IRS audits, that was a local mess:
Organizations were singled out because they included the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their applications for tax-exempt status, said Lois Lerner, who heads the IRS division that oversees tax-exempt groups…”That was wrong. That was absolutely incorrect, it was insensitive and it was inappropriate. That’s not how we go about selecting cases for further review,” Lerner said at a conference sponsored by the American Bar Association.
“The IRS would like to apologize for that,” she added.
Lerner said the practice was initiated by low-level workers in Cincinnati and was not motivated by political bias. After her talk, she told The AP that no high level IRS officials knew about the practice. She did not say when they found out. About 75 groups were inappropriately targeted. None had their tax-exempt status revoked, Lerner said.
No one was harmed, except for having to submit extra paperwork – they all got their tax-exempt status, and it really was a Cincinnati problem, as Drum notes here:
Roughly speaking, what seems to have happened is that three years ago the IRS was facing an explosion of newly formed 501(c)4 groups claiming tax exempt status, something that’s legal only for groups that are primarily engaged in promoting education or social welfare, not electioneering. So some folks in the Cincinnati office tried to come up with a quick filter to flag groups that deserved extra scrutiny. But what should that flag be? Well, three years ago the explosion happened to be among tea party groups, so they began searching their database “for applications with ‘Tea Party,’ ‘Patriots,’ or ‘9/12’ in the organization’s name as well as other ‘political-sounding’ names.” This was dumb, and when senior leaders found out about it, they put a quick stop to it.
Drum argues that was the wrong thing to do:
The problem is that the explosion of 501(c)4 groups is a genuine problem: they really have grown like kudzu, lots of them really are used primarily as electioneering vehicles, and the IRS has been either unwilling or unable to regulate them properly. So the fact that some of the folks responsible for processing these applications were looking for a way to flag potentially dubious groups is sort of understandable.
But understandable or not, they bungled it horribly, leaving themselves open to equally understandable charges of politicizing the IRS. Conservative groups are as outraged as liberals would be if the Bush-era IRS were flagging groups with “environment” or “progressive” in their names. So even if, as seems likely, this whole thing turns out to have been mostly a misguided scheme cooked up by some too-clever IRS drones, it doesn’t matter. Conservatives are right to be outraged and right to demand a full investigation. They suspect there might be more to it, and so would I if the shoe were on the other foot. We need to find out for sure whether this episode was just moronic, or if it had some kind of partisan motivation.
What’s really unfortunate about all this is that it will probably put an end to any scrutiny of 501(c)4 groups, and that’s a shame. The IRS should be scrutinizing them, and it should be doing it on an ongoing basis.
Was this the outrage of all outrages, or just a logical but misguided attempt at filtering data? Let us pause and then choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight.
From the very start, the talking points say that the attacks were “spontaneously inspired by the protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo” and then “evolved” into the assaults on the two compounds in Benghazi.
The first draft included references to “Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida.” This was eventually sanded down to “extremists” after the State Department pointed out that they had been deliberately withholding this information because “we don’t want to prejudice the investigation.” This is the same thing that David Petraeus told Congress last November.
The third draft included an ass-covering paragraph from the CIA making sure everyone knew they had produced “numerous pieces” on possible threats to Benghazi in the previous few months, with the obvious implication that the State Department had ignored them. Unsurprisingly, the State Department’s spokesman, Victoria Nuland, objected to this gratuitous display of bureaucratic point scoring. It was removed in the final draft.
Drum adds this:
I’m really, really trying to find anything scandalous here. I know I’m biased. But on a scale of 1 to 10, this is about a 1.5. It’s a little bit of unseemly bureaucratic squabbling combined with the usual mushiness that you get when an interagency process produces a series of drafts of sensitive information for public consumption. But I’m sure it calls for impeachment hearings to begin anyway.
Glenn Kessler adds the detail:
This basically was a bureaucratic knife fight, pitting the State Department against the CIA. …
First, some important context: Although the ambassador was killed, the Benghazi “consulate” was not a consulate at all but basically a secret CIA operation which included an effort to round up shoulder-launched missiles. In fact, only seven of the 30 Americans evacuated from Benghazi had any connection to the State Department; the rest were affiliated with the CIA… So, from the State Department perspective, this was an attack on a CIA operation.
The talking points were originally developed by the CIA… that State screwed up, even though internally, it was known that this was a CIA operation. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland especially objects to the reference to previous warnings, saying it “could be abused by members [of Congress] to beat up the State Department for not paying attention to warnings.” …
The final version of the talking points shows what happened: Just about everything was cut, leaving virtually nothing. The reference to “consulate” was also deleted, replaced by “diplomatic post.” From a bureaucratic perspective, it may have seemed like the best possible solution at the time. From a political perspective, it turned out to be a disaster.
So the CIA tried to add a paragraph that deflected blame for the mess elsewhere and State objected since they considered this a CIA operation in the first place. That’s bureaucratic infighting, not a scandal, although David Corn has another take on this – “This is not much of cover-up. There is no evidence the White House is hiding the truth about what occurred in Benghazi… But the White House has indeed been caught not telling the full story.”
Should impeachment hearings begin now? Michael Tomasky sees them coming:
There is utterly no proof that the President Obama even knew anything directly about the shifting Benghazi responses, let alone did something about them (yes, folks; under the Constitution, the President must do something). And as for the Internal Revenue Service story, from what we now know, those transgressions were committed by IRS staffers in Cincinnati who have never been closer to Obama than their television sets. … The idea that Obama has any direct culpability in either of these matters is, given what we know today, utter madness. Okay?
But this is my point: utter madness is what today’s Republicans do. You can present to me every logical argument you desire. Benghazi at the end of the day was a terrible tragedy in which mistakes, bad mistakes, were certainly made, and in which confusion and the CYA reflex led to some bad information going out to the public initially, but none of this remotely rises to the level of high crime. The IRS cock-up was just that, a mistake by a regional office. I get all this, and I agree with you.
But what we think doesn’t matter. I can assure you that already in the Pavlovian swamps of the nutso right, the glands are swelling. Theirs is a different planet from the one you and I inhabit. Most Republican members of the House live in districts where it is a given (among the white constituents, anyway) that Obama is a socialist; that’s he bent on bringing the United States of America down, or at least that he definitely doesn’t love the country and the Constitution (nudge nudge) the way they do; that he’s not a legitimate occupant of the Oval Office to start with. At the time he was sworn in to his second term, 64 percent of Republicans agreed that Obama was “hiding important information” about his background. Half thought in December 2012 that he stole the election.
Tomasky sees the inevitable:
At this point some of you may be protesting: but at least Clinton did commit a crime, however lame a crime it was. Obama has done no such thing. Again, in reality-land, no, he hasn’t. In their land, however, he has committed a string of them; he just hasn’t been caught yet. And that’s what Darrell Issa and his committee are there to unearth. Besides, he need commit no conventional crime. A high crime or misdemeanor is whatever the House majority decides it is. Remember, in January 1998, impeachment talk started before Clinton had perjured himself.
There is no end to it. And there is no end to Republican figures – and to a distressing extent, the mainstream media – feeding the crazy. When Lindsey Graham calls Benghazi “Obama’s Watergate,” he knows exactly what he’s saying, and so do Republicans in South Carolina, and across the country. And observe over the next few days – it’s already happening – how quickly journalistic shorthand, certainly in the right-wing media, converts the Cincinnati IRS office into “Obama’s IRS,” as if he were sitting around like Nixon personally targeting these groups. You and I know that’s absurd. But on the right, it’s a given that he was doing exactly that.
Tomasky then reviews public opinion at the time of Clinton’s impeachment – support for his impeachment ran between seventeen and twenty-six percent, with one outlier, once, at forty percent. Tomasky notes that the public hated the whole idea, not that it mattered:
Did that stop anyone? No. And it won’t stop them now. They do their base’s bidding, not America’s. How many times do you need to see them do this before you accept that it is the reality? And now there’s an added element. They want to gin up turnout among their base for next year’s elections. And if they gin it up enough, and the Democratic base stays home, they could end up holding the House and taking the Senate. And if they have both houses, meaning that the vote in the House would not be certain to hit a Senate dead-end, well, look out.
Thus, a warning:
I hope the White House knows this. I hope they understand, I hope the President himself understands, that the fever has not broken and will not break. It might crescendo right up to his very last day in office. And yes, a lot of this Benghazi stuff is about Hillary Clinton – but not all of it. And the IRS thing, which Drudge led with for two days in a row and may yet be bigger than Benghazi, isn’t about her at all. If my worst fears are never realized – well, good, obviously. But it will only be because they couldn’t identify even a flimsy pretext on which to proceed. Never put the most extreme behavior past them. It is who they are, and it is what they do.
The blogger BooMan is more direct:
Given the slightest pretext, the House Republicans will certainly begin drafting articles of impeachment. How can we really know where the fine line might be drawn between something that is merely a crazy conspiracy theory and an insane decision to impeach the president over it?
Still, as worked up as the right has become over Benghazi and as frothy as they’re likely to get over any scandal involving the Internal Revenue Service, there still has to be something more directly tied to the president for the GOP to start the impeachment hearings.
They won’t try to impeach the president over anything that is in the news right now. They will talk about it, but they won’t do it.
The thing is, if they ever find something (no matter how flimsy) that really reflects quite badly on the president, they will impeach him for it. They won’t care if only fifteen percent of the public agrees with them. They won’t care if the offense is the farthest thing imaginable from a high crime. They’ll do it because they have lizard brains and they act like lizard people.
Ah but there’s this headline – McCain Defends Obama against Impeachment for Benghazi, Will ‘Give President Benefit Of The Doubt’ – but ask any Republican. McCain never really was one. Nothing changed after the pause. Let us pause and then choose the one response toward which we wish to throw our weight. If only it were that simple.
Now back to the madness.