By Jay Hansen
Okay guys, for those of you that don’t know this week has been crazy full. Things are changing at work, it was my wonderful partner Heidi’s birthday on Wednesday, we’re finally celebrating out mother’s day plans on Friday (had to re-schedule from last Saturday because of work) PLUS I’ve got a staff meeting for work, and it’s our friend’s daughter’s graduation and dinner on Saturday, then back to work on Sunday! Add a little emotional trauma to all of that and slow cook it over the course of a week and you’ve got the stress-casserole the universe is currently serving me.
Thankfully, this week really only had three big news stories, and all were scandals that involve Obama to some degree. Given that, I’m going to lighting round this bitch and get this one article cranked out so I can get back to my other dozen things I’m supposed to be doing.
I’ve ordered the three big scandals in least offensive to worst, so you can probably guess we’re starting with.
1. Benghazi, a non-scandal
Now, why do I say a “non-scandal?” It’s simple. Ask yourself this; what, exactly, is the Benghazi scandal? It’s that the Obama administration tried to cover something up. Okay, what? Was it the death of a US diplomat? No, Obama openly admitted that as soon as it happened. Was it that one of our embassies was attacked? No, Obama was honest about that too. Was it that Obama is refusing to increase funding for embassy security even after the attack? No, that would be Republicans. What was covered up then? The fact that this was a coordinated attack versus a random act of violence. In the beginning, Obama acknowledged it was an act of terror, but then changed talking points to that it was a random attack launched by protesters. Why? That’s a good question, but I can venture a guess.
BECAUSE HE’S A POLITICIAN AND IT WAS DURING A CAMPAIGN
So really, the only scandal here is that a politician running for President lied about something to look a little better in a campaign. Having a “terrorist attack” on his record may have hurt his re-election chances. He didn’t lie about the damage done, nor would his response to what happened be any different had he gone with the initial talking point of it being a terrorist attack instead of a protest. And really, we’re going to throw a shit fit and shout “SCANDAL” at the top of our lungs because a politician played politics during a campaign? Get over yourselves. Yes, it was a cover up, but tell me exactly how that cover up did even the slightest bit of damage (outside of the damage politicians do every day with their typical little white lies).
More than that though, there hasn’t been any real developments recently in the Benghazi story, so why is it suddenly in the news again? Because Republicans want it in the news. They thought of some new words to attack Obama with on this issue so they brought it back up. Keep in mind, this happened last September. That just goes to show you how much in the back pocket of the establishment the media is; the Republican establishment more so than the Democratic.
As for the actual rhetoric coming from the Republicans on this issue, I’ll let my good friend Jon Stewart explain why it’s hyperbolic bullcrap.
2. The IRS targeting right-wing groups, a low-moderate scandal
I ranked this scandal this way because, well, at least it’s a little better than Benghazi.
The Internal Revenue Service field office in Cincinnati was caught applying extra scrutiny on right-wing organizations attempting to file for tax-exempt status (known as 501(c)4 groups). They’ve since apologized, and the acting commissioner of the IRS, Steve Miller, has been forced to resign by the Obama administration. Frankly, I’d have rather seen more localized punishment taken, if any at all, because this scandal seems completely contained to this single office. The President was not involved at all, and right now I can’t find any sources that say whether or not the Commissioner was involved either; he was just the sacrificial lamb over this “scandal,” which is a term I’m using loosely to describe this. Let me explain why.
The IRS started scrutinizing right-wing organizations with the words “tea party” or “patriot” in their title back in 2010, when Douglas Shulman was the IRS Commissioner. Shulman was appointed by George W. Bush in 2008, so if the Commissioner was involved in this scandal at all, it was a right-wing Commissioner that was applying this extra scrutiny, and not some liberal political bosses trying to squash their opposition. Steven Miller, the acting Commissioner, wasn’t even in the position six months when this “scandal” surfaced, and he was forced to resign.
And what did this “scrutinizing” involve, exactly? Were any groups denied their tax exempt status because of this? No, not a single conservative group has lost or been denied tax-exempt status since this “scandal” started. As a matter of fact, more liberal political groups have lost their 501(c)4 status than conservatives under the Obama administration’s watch. The scandal here is that some political organizations were delayed their tax exempt status (I want to say it was no longer than 27 days, but I’m having trouble finding a source to confirm that) so that the IRS could investigate them more thoroughly to ensure they’re qualified for the status.
So, like Benghazi, that’s it. Some Tea Party groups had to wait about an extra month before they were classified as tax-exempt because the federal government wanted to make sure there was no wrongdoing on their part. Keep in mind, 501(c)4 organizations are not allowed to engage in any sort of political activity as their primary purpose. When groups that identify as Tea Parties request the status, then, the government must take extra special care to investigate them and make sure they are adhering to the law and, you know, their political activities are going through all the right legal loopholes before they can be confirmed as tax-exempt.
Now yes, there are 501(c)4 groups on the left that abuse these same legal loopholes, and they were not given the same scrutiny as those on the right, but there is some logic in that decision. Which side of the political spectrum is opposed, often vehemently so, to the income tax? The right. Which side of the political spectrum is much more likely to evade paying taxes? The right. Which organizations seeking tax-exempt status, a status that is often abused by political organizations, were given extra scrutiny? Right-wing political organizations. To me, that makes all the sense in the world.
AND remember, Obama is not involved in this scandal at all. Immediately upon finding out about it he took action and eliminated the nearest scapegoat he could find, given that the people under which this “scandal” happened aren’t in office any more to begin with. Even if Obama does somehow turn out to be involved in this scandal, it’s probably the tamest use of the IRS by the President in years. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, used the IRS to investigate direct political opponents. In 2004, for example, the NAACP’s chairman criticized President Bush for being the first President since Herbert Hoover to not address the organization. Right afterward, the group was audited by the IRS. Similar stories exist for organizations like Greenpeace and others that were genuinely non-political organizations qualified for tax-exempt status. Far worse than this scandal, though, Bush also went as far as to sic the IRS on seemingly liberal churches and religious institutions and not just political organizations.
So if you’re calling for Obama’s head over the IRS completely independently of the President investigating right-wing organizations seeking to abuse tax exempt status, but think what George Bush did with the IRS is totally fine and acceptable, then you really just need to stop talking, and never vote again. Seriously.
3. The Obama Administration obtained two months of phone records from the Associated Press – a huge scandal
Seriously, if you’re not angry about this you’re not paying attention. I’m running out of time so I’ll just let Ben Mankiewicz explain.
All of these scandals, despite how minor the first two were, translate to bad, bad news for President Obama. The problem is, though, that Republicans really wouldn’t have been any better. Democrats and Republicans are infamous for their agreement on civil rights violations right now, so there’s no question that the AP scandal still would have happened under a Republican President. We know for a fact that the Bush administration abused the IRS to investigate their political opponents much more harshly than has happened under this administration, and this administration didn’t even order the IRS to do so. As for Benghazi, it’s impossible to say it would have happened the exact same way under a Republican president, but keep in mind the only “cover up” involved in that scandal is the retroactive changing of talking points so that the President wouldn’t have to suffer the political backlash of another terrorist attack happening on his watch near the end of a presidential re-election campaign. If you honestly think a Republican wouldn’t change such a minor detail of a story to save face when running for President, you’re delusional.
Yet despite this, over which scandal are Republicans are now threatening impeachment? You guessed it; Benghazi, the least concerning of them all. It’s a non-issue over which to impeach a President, and a massive waste of time for Congress, but it’s still really bad for Obama. Remember, the reason Nixon was forced to resign was because he was about to be impeached and he had alienated his political base by establishing the EPA, traveling to China and repairing diplomatic ties with a communist country, and supported a whole host of liberal plans and legislation. This infuriated his conservative base, but liberals were still just as opposed to him as ever. Now, we have a Democrat that is threatening to cut Social Security, made the Bush Tax Cuts permanent, and wants to lower the corporate tax. Whether legitimate reasons for impeachment or not, Obama could be in a world of trouble as he finally suffers the consequences of alienating his liberal base.
Of course, at the same time, it could be wonderful news for Obama. When Republicans tried to impeach Clinton over absolutely nothing at all, the American people saw through their bullshit, realized they were wasting massive amounts of time, and booted them out of the House (Democrats gained seats in the 1998 Congressional elections). If Obama plays this right, it could actually be to the Democrat’s advantage.
Either way, my hat is off to Republicans. Benghazi may be a bullshit scandal, but at least they’ve found a better reason to impeach this president than the last time they tried.